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REVIEW: Chicago by the Congress Youth Theatre

a theatre audience
A packed audience at the Congress Theatre in Cwmbran

Lee Evans in 1996. Russell Brand in 2018. And now Chicago at the Congress Youth Theatre (CYT. I hear good things about a live show, leave it late to get tickets, and my wife and I end up sitting in separate rows as I failed to get a pair sat together.

I bumped into her after the show and with a huge smile on her face she said: “That was better than most of the West End shows I’ve seen. You can use that line in your review.” Cheers Alison 🙂

Grab a programme (£1) and you will see what a team effort goes on behind the scenes. There is a long list of everyone who has worked hard to get this four-night run on stage. Rachel Hamilton, show director, has written a powerful piece about a hidden story of this production that gives it added emotions for everyone involved. The last time the curtain went down for a CYT production was 14 March 2020, days before the first national lockdown.

Only five of the cast have previously been in a senior show before. A quick count of the cast and company comes to 35. This was the first time 30 of these young people had been on stage for the senior production with CYT. I had no idea who the 30 newbies were. They were all fab and from the start to the finish, I took turns to focus on different cast members during songs. None of them took their eye off the role they were playing and their pride and passion bounced off the stage into my row one seat.

The cast take us back to the “glamourous and scandalous world of 1920s Chicago” and cram three years of being kept off the stage into two and a half hours of energy where every song was greeted with a sit-down ovation from the audience.

Rachel gives a little nod to the “fresh perspective” that they bring to Chicago with the words, “Rooney versus Vardy”. Unlike that court case, Izzy Morgan (as Roxie Hart) and Lucy James (as Velma Kelly) both left the courtroom as celebrity criminal best mates following their constant one-upmanship as they battled for control of the media and their own stories.

I felt a bit sorry for Wayne Beecham, the musical director. He conducts the wonderful ten-piece live band that provided the music for the show. Yes, the music is provided by TEN talented musicians. And all of that for just £12 a ticket (£10 concessions). He has the best spot in the house yet does not get to see a single second of it with his own eyes. For the full show, he only has eyes for his orchestra and conducted them with his back to the action on the stage.

The staging, lighting, props, choreography and costumes combined to give us lucky ticket holders a night to remember. The dozens of volunteers behind the scenes have given up 100s of hours of their time to allow the cast and company to do their best work on the stage. I’m so biased towards volunteers, people who give up their time to do nice things and in this case, give a leg-up for so many young people to have an experience they will never forget. And acting skills give someone so much more than, well, acting skills.

CYT develops confidence, friendships, support and gives young people a safe place to be themselves. Two of my nieces have been in their productions (many, many years ago) and they still talk about how it has helped them in their lives and careers.

And a big thanks to the volunteers who run the front of house, sell programmes, organise the raffle and serve up the internal snacks and drinks. Again, more volunteers doing brilliant things.

West End shows have stage doors, usually down a dark street, where you can hang around waiting for the cast members to leave. It was lovely to stand in the Congress Theatre’s bar area after the curtain went up and watch the young people come out to meet their friends and family. Every minute there was a loud cheer from a different part of the room as they spotted the person they were waiting for.

The walls of the foyer are covered in posters for upcoming acts and shows in our town’s theatre. The sold-out signs are already on the  Max Boyce posters for his 50th Anniversary show. For those readers of a certain age, can you remember one of his best lines?

“I was there”, is all about being one of the lucky ones to have a golden ticket to get into a Wales rugby team match. Along with 312 other lucky ticket holders last night in Cwmbran, we are the only ones in the world who can now say, “I was there”.

Who was who in Chicago?

The cast

  • Roxie Hart: Izzy Morgan
  • Velma Kelly: Lucy James
  • Billy Flynn: Sam Davies
  • Matron ‘Mama’ Morton: Eloise Cawley
  • Mary Sunshine: Callum Negrotti
  • Amos Hart: Jamie Jackson
  • Master of Ceremonies: Morgan Fish
  • Fred Casley: Elys Sweet
  • Sargent Fogarty: Nathaniel Bustin
  • Kitty: May Brunsdon
  • Katalin Hunyak: Lily Matthews
  • Cell Block Tango Girls: Ella Daley, Emily Williams, Emily Isgrove, Lily Matthews, Ryann Ratcliffe
  • Followers/Reporters: Chloe Morgan, Jemima Searle
  • Judge: Caitlin Smith
  • Lawyer Daniella Akinsiku
  • Aaron: Harri Rhodes
  • Harry: Oliver Chesse

The company
Addison Hunter Davies, Caitlin Childs, Caitlyn Williams, Charlie Burton, Dylan Williams, Emily Fish, Eva Gibbs, Ffion Griffin, Jessica Cooke-Parker, Julio Sebastiao, Lily Stephens, Taya Rouf, Theo Charles-Pritchard.

Congress Youth Theatre on Facebook

Check out lots of cast photos and more info on the Congress Youth Theatre’s Facebook page.

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One reply on “REVIEW: Chicago by the Congress Youth Theatre”

Posted inUncategorized

REVIEW: Chicago by the Congress Youth Theatre

One reply on “REVIEW: Chicago by the Congress Youth Theatre”