Spira rocks Chicago at Redhill
Following the huge success of Redhill School’s theatrical production of Cabaret last year, some tried to dissuade the school’s executive head from putting on another musical this year, feeling that it could never live up to the accomplishment of Cabaret.
But by interval on opening night of Chicago last Thursday, those same folk were humbly eating their words.
Joseph Gerassi, the director, did it again. Chicago was a smooth-running, slick, and extremely professional production – from the acting and singing through to the dancing, which was choregraphed by Michaela Browde (a teacher at the school).
They brought to life the glamour, corruption, and criminal underworld of Chicago in the 1920s. The production, while mostly true to the original in the songs and script, brought an innovative and modernising touch by introducing the element of social media and its power to the script.
Though the lead actresses, Nyasha Manda and Enhle Gasa, were outstanding, the male lead, Matthew Spira, was astonishing in his performance of Billy Flynn, the smarmy, debonair, narcissistic lawyer who handles all the high-profile cases of the women in Cook County Jail who murdered their partners.
Spira’s personality is, by all accounts, the polar opposite of Flynn’s. He’s a sweet, helpful, and friendly young guy who would never harm anyone or take advantage of them. However, as Flynn, he was so believable as the conceited womaniser who plays the system to his own advantage for his personal fame and fortune, not even vaguely caring about his clients’ well-being.
Spira, who has no formal training in acting, wore his role as comfortably as the extraordinarily loud suit that made his character stand out. He looked like he had been living this role every night for years. This Grade 11 pupil’s impeccable Chicago drawl and his delightful easy-to-listen-to singing voice and exceptional acting had the audience captivated.
The two female leads, who were just as superb, clearly had a magical rapport with Spira.
Spira wasn’t the only Jewish actor in Chicago, but on opening night, he was the only Jewish person in a major role.
Sienna Ho, a Grade 10 pupil, played the role of one of the two female leads, Velma Kelly, on alternative nights. Kelly is one of the two murderesses who become overnight media successes because of Flynn’s way with the media. On opening night, she was Mona, one of the merry murderesses, as was Sophia Rovetti, who played the role of Annie. Both are clearly accomplished dancers, actresses, and singers. As Velma, Ho’s beautiful, smooth alto voice really shone in numbers such as All That Jazz and I Know a Girl. Even as one of the youngest principal actors, Ho was able to embody the sophistication and complexity of the iconic character. Her dynamic performance captivated the audience throughout the show, and garnered the perfect balance of sympathy and suspicion.
Chad Bacher, also part of the ensemble on opening night, played the role of Amos Hart, the cuckolded and down-trodden husband of Roxie Hart, a woman who murdered her lover and was one of the two female leads. Bacher’s earnest performance compelled compassion and pity in the audience toward the self-proclaimed “Mister Cellophane”.
Jonah Sherman, who plays Billy Flynn on the nights when Spira isn’t, also received acclaim for his charisma and superb comic timing. When he isn’t playing Flynn, he too is in the ensemble.
Spira wasn’t the only one in his family in the show, however. His younger brother, Gabriel, who is in Grade 9, played trumpet in the orchestra and was one of the only pupils in the musicians’ pit on opening night.