Section: Arts

Review: Chicago shadowcast brings Roaring ’20s to Rosse

Review: Chicago shadowcast brings Roaring ’20s to Rosse

Weil was electrifying as Roxie. | COURTESY OF LIV STRIPLING

On Friday night, Rosse Hall transformed into a giant speakeasy with audience members ready to travel back a century to 1920s Chicago. Directed by Zella Lezak ’24 and choreographed by Ava Mascuch ’24, Chicago was StageFemmes’ very first shadowcast — a film screening accompanied by performances from a cast of live actors. The production’s talented and vivacious cast members exceeded all expectations with an unforgettable performance, solidifying the production’s place in Kenyon’s rich history of memorable shadowcasts.  

Based on the original musical written by Maurine Dallas-Watkins and Fredd Ebb, the film “Chicago” takes place in the Roaring ’20s and follows the lives of two women on trial for murder, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. The musical’s feminist origins and distinct commentary on the criminal justice system align it with the organizational mission of StageFemmes to promote stories of underrepresented groups in society. “It’s one of the best movie musicals ever to be seen; the dancing is incredible and it offers an opportunity to add different levels to a shadowcast,” Lezak said in an interview with the Collegian

The success of the show wouldn’t have been possible without the talented student cast, whose captivating performances held the audience’s attention as the film played behind them. With a two-hour runtime and 11 dance numbers, the production was a massive commitment, but each cast member met the challenge with unwavering energy and dedication. Taking on the lead role of Roxie, Merilee Weil ’26 beautifully captured the vanity and wit of her character. With every hand gesture and facial expression in sync with the film, Weil fully devoted herself to the role and even bleached her hair to mirror Roxie’s signature look. Reflecting on her character work, Weil emphasized the importance of exaggerating every moment on stage. “You are competing with the screen [in a shadowcast], so you have to go out there and give it everything,” she said in an interview with the Collegian.

Another remarkable part of the show was Nairi Harumi ’24’s stirring portrayal of Velma, which was both masterful and thrilling to watch. She particularly shined during her solo number “I Can’t Do It Alone,” during which she performed a riveting and animated dance, merely using a chair as a prop. The only thing that could surpass her individual performance was her constant support of her fellow cast members, particularly her co-star. Although Weil was nervous coming into the show with minimal dance experience, Harumi was a continuous source of guidance as an experienced dancer who has been in multiple shadowcasts. “She very much taught me everything for the show and we spent a lot of time outside rehearsals, just the two of us, working our numbers,” Weil said. 

One especially energetic moment during the show was the iconic “Cell Block Tango.” Kicking off the number with the unnerving “POP” was Aimee Halpin ’26, whose stellar dance technique made her a magnetic force throughout the show. What followed was a series of chilling monologues delivered by each murderess before they all came together for a sharp and powerful group dance. Other standout songs included “All I Care About” featuring the manipulative and smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, played by John Kibler ’25. Additionally, Juliet Hartz ’24 excelled in her solo number “When Mama’s Good to You,” as the deceitful and sassy prison warden. Lastly, Isabelle Chritton ’25 received lots of cheers from the audience in “Mr. Cellophane” as Roxie’s naive and overlooked husband, Amos Hart. 

Like the Coraline shadowcast, Chicago’s intermission featured a performance from Kenyon’s Dance Team to Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and Beyoncé’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” From the song choice to the costumes, every aspect of the dance significantly enhanced the ambiance of the Chicago theme and even highlighted the show’s choreographer, Mascuch, who performed in the dance. The ultimate challenge that the directors of a shadowcast have to reckon with is not being able to fully reproduce every element of the film. With rapid scene transitions and intricate set designs in the film, Lezak and Mascuch had to strategically decide what moments they wanted to replicate on stage. Prioritizing skilled dancers in the show’s auditions, Mascuch tackled all 11 ambitious dance numbers with grace and precision. The show reaffirmed that movie musicals are ideal for a successful shadowcast, especially films like “Chicago” that allow reinvention and reinterpretation of complex dances. Shadowcasts are a unique feature of student life at Kenyon where audience engagement and enthusiasm for fellow students is unmatched. From the precise and exceptional dances to the gripping lead roles, cast members of Chicago truly outperformed the screen and set a high bar for future shadowcasts.

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