StarStruck Theater’s High School Edition of Chicago - A MacDad Review

By Damon Paxton November 22, 2018

It’s been a week since I saw the final performance of Chicago put on by the cast at Starstruck and I find myself still smiling as I reflect on the show. I miss the songs, I miss the performers and I miss the energy it provided to each of us that was lucky enough to see it.

The bar was set pretty high when I heard that StarStruck was presenting the production of Chicago. It has only been about 3 years since I saw my first show on that stage and each time it seems I seem to come away with a belief that I have just seen the best thing this little theater can crank out.

The bar would already be through the roof if I had seen the show before on Broadway which I hadn’t. The only thing I really had to compare it to was a movie version of Chicago starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere. Of course anything in the movie realm would have had several cuts, voice-overs, various camera angles and a polish and glisten that you could only expect to find on the big screen…or maybe not?

We have come to expect great things from this little theater in Stuart, Florida, but come on, this is one of the better known, highly dynamic, cornerstone musicals that features some rather daring adult themes. The Broadway show of Chicago has more than a suggestive tone of murder, indecency and dishonesty – how would the team at StarStruck spin the High School Edition into something that was entertaining enough for adults yet not too shocking for those that might bring their 4 year olds to the front row? Not only that, but I am not a pushover anymore. I realize I still have much to learn, but I have been to Broadway now (Twice!) and I consider myself slightly more than an amateur theater aficionado who knows how to appreciate solid talent and entertainment. To start with, you had better have some dynamic leading ladies up there or you might lose me.

What’s that you say, Jennifer Jones? Challenge Accepted?!?

Powerhouses would be an understatement when defining the 3 pillars of this performance - each brought a uniquely formulated character presence to their respective roles. They pieced together like a puzzle each accompanying and supporting their counterparts onstage and from start to finish brought the house down during each performance.

Jillian Plymale in the role of Velma Kelly was a perfect choice. She kicked off the show in stunning fashion with her assembled cast in knock-out momentous version of All That Jazz. Jillian and her ensemble group danced and owned the stage at the open, setting the tone for the audience and letting us know that we were in for more than just another musical. I am pretty sure I have seen her as a teapot once, but she was not a teapot that day – her message to the audience that day was “I am Velma Kelly – Hear Me Roar!” Her kicks, her agility, her ability were paramount to just what the role of Velma entailed. She got to showcase her skills in Cell Block Tango, I Can’t Do It Alone and When Velma Takes the Stand. After some of the more rigorous dance numbers she was able to immediately shift gears and hit the notes she needed to exactly on cue.

At 16, Charlotte Krieger knocked the role of Roxie Hart out of the park. She immediately captured our hearts while conveying an innocence and “poor little me” attitude…even though she had just committed murder. I remember being somewhat in awe that Charlotte had morphed and become this character that was not part of the glitz and glam in Chicago, but she knew she was certainly going to be part of it. In the scenes that would follow I got the feeling that she was going to make things happen her way and be the front page of the paper sort of news and the star of the show that everyone would be talking about. I have to say that my favorite number of the entire show was We Both Reach for the Gun where Roxie plays puppet to Billy Flynn as they polish Roxie’s story into her becoming the victim who was simply defending herself when the gun went off. Krieger’s puppet performance sung alongside a group of perfectly pliable yet synchronized reporters had the crowd howling their approval. Krieger was exceptional in Funny Hunny, outstanding in Roxie and very convincing in Me and My Baby. It was clear that she has been onstage for years and undoubtedly, for many years ahead.

When I first realized the role of Billy Flynn was going to be played by Eliza Levy – I was like, “Wait a minute! Billy Flynn is a guy!” Shortly thereafter - I quietly changed my mind. Levy is simply one of the kids that was born backstage during an intermission at StarStruck and she quite possibly has lived there ever since. She has been a singer, performer, dancer, actress and staple in StarStruck shows since I started watching a few years ago and her talent is woven into the very fabric of her DNA. Levy as Billy Flynn was a brilliant powerhouse decision. She can act, she can dance, and when she feels like it, can hold a note for 30 seconds with range and lung capacity to spare. When Levy was onstage she commanded the role and left no doubt that she was the lawyer in charge. She crushed it in All I Care About Is Love, Razzle Dazzle and of course my favorite, We Both Reach for the Gun.

The show could stand on the powerhouse performance triplicate of Plymale, Krieger and Levy but they were garnished with strong supporting roles from Ava Mahan who played Mama Morton and Justin Block who did an outstanding job as Amos. I had seen Mahan sing in other performances at StarStruck, and she was as equally fantastic in the role of Mama Morton. As I listened to her belt out When You’re Good to Mama, I remember thinking “OMG, how deep is the talent pool on this stage?!?” Mahan’s message was clear - you had darn well better be good to Mama. I had seen Justin Block in roles prior to Amos in Chicago and he has been fantastic, clearly growing into roles and maturing as an actor and performer each time. Block’s representation of Amos was through the roof and my heart went out to him as I watched his wife, Roxie, put on a dog and pony show with his gullibility, loyalty and his heart. Justin’s peak performance was in Mr. Cellophane, which was exceptional. If any performer can make an entire audience feel their sorrow and emit a collective group “Awwwwwwwwwww,” then their performance has hit its mark.

But wait there’s more! Each of the 22 member cast has a range and complexity of talent that goes beyond what a simple review could even begin to sum up. Other supporting cast and ensemble players had a depth and ability that you just don’t usually see onstage. With an age range of 12-17 I would gladly write a paragraph on each one of them. Some have played starring roles in other productions but played further down the chain in this particular musical. Each one of them deserves the credit for their hard work and ability throughout this creation. Realizing how deep the ability extended into each and every cast member gives us a bit more of a glimpse into the back of the house and the inner workings of what goes on behind the curtain. Some of the performers will step forward when ready and some may step out of the limelight for a moment while they postpone until their next time to shine – regardless, none of the genius onstage was provided at any less than full throttle from any member. The show doesn’t happen without everyone working together and firing on all cylinders. It becomes a valid illustration for only being as good as the weakest link and it didn’t seem that there were any. This production was through the roof amazing, which means that each and every member onstage gets to share in the greatness.

As always Peter Jones sits atop the control center at the back of the room and most days you forget he is even there playing the piano. Something that one may take for granted in a performance set to a musical track, Mr. Jones keeps his gaze and his attention on the performers onstage and he gauges and changes notes and counts based on each individual performance. You get the feeling that his ability to adjust to each performer and their breathing and vocal ranges comes as easily to him as blinking does to you and me.

Proud mama, Jennifer Jones, can be seen from time to time in the aisles, in the control tower and in the wings of the stage looking somewhat like an expectant mother seeing the fruits of her creation for the first time. Sometimes she can be seen clutching her hands to her chest, laughing out loud, or tearing up as she seems to live, feel and breathe each and every expression and action onstage. It is the vision and the heart and the soul of Peter and Jennifer and their phenomenal team in the shadows that bring each and every production to life.

One would think that to put on such a well done portrayal of Chicago it would be enough to know the music, memorize the lines and figure out the kicks and steps to pull off a show of this magnitude - in each of these creations it is clear that something else goes in. From the meter and precision in every Fosse inspired dance step to the functionality of the prison bars and background highlighting in each scene there is a mesh and a connective fabric that permeates through each performer in every show. It manifests a reference to giving all you can give and leaving a little bit of yourself onstage. In each and every show the talented choreographers and coaches at StarStruck shape and mold the young stars of this community until they perform, dance, sing, act and gel into a beautifully finished product. Friendships are formed, lessons are learned and a discipline is incorporated into habits and behaviors that fortify our youth, craft performers and construct leaders we can be proud of. Experiences play out onstage, but also behind the scenes as the young cast learns how to work together, treat each other and appreciate each unique personality and perspective. It is a controlled, safe place for teachings to present onstage, but also for learned life curricula to be taken offstage. It seems like a great place to be family and a great place to learn and grow. In a nutshell, these are amazingly good kids, and some of the most talented I have ever seen.

StarStruck’s High School Edition of Chicago was outstanding and if you missed it I am sorry. For someone born a farmboy in Colorado I never thought I would find myself always looking forward to their next production. If you don’t have tickets to Wizard of Oz (December 13th -16th 2018) they are going fast.