A fantastic murder show in Brno
Lenka Šaldová 3. May 2011 zdroj Divadelní noviny No.9
A fantastic murder show in Brno
The media dictate to us what and who we should notice. Those who aren’t written or spoken about appear not to exist. What is reality and what is only a pseudoreality constructed by the media? And what are we willing to do for our moment of glory? Stanislav Moša is right: it is easy for a crook to become a celebrity and for a nobody to become a star!
The musical Chicago, which after being an initial flop obtained tens of musical and later also film awards, isn’t however full of moralizing focused on the topic of the power of the media but is mainly an impressive music and dance show, and for this kind of show there is no better address than Brno City Theatre. Stanislav Moša staged Chicago with an understanding of hyperbole, in an imaginatively lit area which represents both a cabaret and a prison. The MC, Vojtěch Blahuta, has a discussion with the spectators in the front rows and then sits down at the piano and plays jazz together with the band. The ladies are dressed only in black net stockings, suspenders and chemises, thus revealing their sexy bodies and legs. Their performance has style, whether it be the six murderesses singing a murder tango or the two main rivals Velma Kelly (Ivana Vaňková) and Roxie Hart (Ivana Skálová) mixing it up together. The cynical and charming lawyer, Billy Flynn (Dušan Vitázek), enjoys his position as a manipulator on whom the fate of the girls depends. The performance of Milan Němec as the “clown”, Amos Hart, singing a sad song about the hardship of a constantly neglected person, is touching. The extravagant “operetta” journalist Mary Sunshine (Martina Severová) rules the stage completely for a short time. However, the best comes at the end: Mama Morton (Markéta Sedláčková) sings her song in a truly breathtaking fashion. A wholly professional, passionate and entertaining production. Brno City Theatre is simply great at this.
Chicago in Brno: Grade A
Luboš Mareček 2. April 2011 zdroj Magazín Víkend DNES,
Chicago in Brno: Grade A
The musical Chicago has an interesting historical connection with Brno. It had its Czechoslovak premiere only three years later than the world premiere, appearing on the stage of the Mrštík Brothers´ Theatre, today’s Brno City Theatre, in 1978, which is one year before it reached London or Prague.
The banal attribute ‘timeless’, which is often used for works which are well established and shown with stiff persistence, is in the right place here. Some works don’t age. Even if you retain the attributes of 1920’s gangland America, the spectators will also see the present there. This satirical story of corruption, false morals and the manipulation of public opinion could have been written yesterday. Perhaps murderesses who kill their own husbands and then cry crocodile tears are no longer freed, but dishonest behaviour (the musical doesn’t have a single uncorrupt character) is ever present. Add the unceasing human desire for fame, happiness, beauty and riches at any cost… It is unsurprising that this story of two beautiful murderesses was based on a real event.
The fight to be murderess of the week
The arrested beauties Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart long to become famous in this story with a great libretto and phenomenal music. Both of them use the expensive services of a famous lawyer, Billy Flynn, who is a cynical leech and manipulator. As far as both sinners are concerned, they aren’t particularly bothered about freedom and a pardon; the duo are mainly fighting for a spot on the front pages of the newspapers and the title “murderess of the week”, and try to get the most out of their position.
Director Moša intentionally turns this corruption-soaked musical into an even bigger circus, with the suspender-clad actresses hamming it up most of the time. A good example is the excellent scene where Roxie is trying to persuade her husband to find a lot of money for the lawyer. The comical physical exertions employed by Radka Coufalová make the audience laugh and simultaneously reinforce the monstrous cunningness of such behaviour.
Poignancy and sarcasm escalate to a high point of bitterness
The director tries to keep the course of events within the genre borders between hyperbole and laughter, during which the unscrupulous behaviour sometimes sends chills down one’s spine. Chicago needs a quality ensemble and orchestra to be perfect, and Brno City Theatre has both at its disposal. Seventeen musicians play in prison cells which are scattered around three floors of a huge structure which represents a prison and its cells. Only the piano is standing on the stage. The top board of this piano, which the MC plays, functions as a bed for adultery at one moment, and at other times plays host to Roxie’s seductive stretching. Chicago doesn’t do much speaking; it is full of songs.
Vojtěch Blahuta as the versatile MC was an experience, and the two leading ladies were also good: Ivana Vaňková (Velma) and Radka Coufalová (Roxie). The first-mentioned, with her rich tone colour and well mastered dance, easily fills the emptied stage. Coufalová is, on the other hand, a little beast well able to play with mimics and gestures; her voice and movement skills never fail her, and she does a good job of ironizing her own character. Flynn, played by Petr Gazdík, is sometimes a jolly humanist and at other times the complete opposite. Milan Němec as the downtrodden husband Amos doesn’t gain popularity from the spectators via acting blackmail but rather as an ineffectual fool who is neither a match for his wife nor the blood-thirsty environment.
The poignancy and sarcasm which the director presents via light caricature escalates to a high point of great bitterness at the end. The two beauties thank the audience for their trust in their innocence, sending thanks to God and roses to the auditorium. You will get to experience, bitterly, how a lie can look seductive in a beautiful shiny dress or how it can hide in a cloak of beautifully peppery jazz.
Brno’s Chicago – a musical about our treacherous world
Peter Stoličný 31. March 2011 zdroj www.musical-opereta.cz,
Brno’s Chicago – a musical about our treacherous world
Director Stanislav Moša has staged the musical Chicago under the conductorship of Ondřej Tajovský, on a set by Jaroslav Milfajt and with choreography by Aneta Majerová and Hana Kratochvilová. I’m not use to what degree the owners of the copyright, or the original production, require that the original conception of the work be maintained. It is a fact, though, that Chicago is staged in almost the same way at every theatre where I’ve seen it. However, it wouldn’t be Stanislav Moša if he didn’t show the musical in his own style. He has put a lot more humor and exaggeration into this story of murderesses from a Chicago jail than we may normally find in imitations of the original versions. For example, the grotesque illustration of the individual murders in some kind of minimalist comic book style (after all, choreographer Fosse has always been a minimalist in the dance routines he creates and he would definitely like it), or the choice of stage, which reminds one of a round circus cage for the performance of predatory beasts. There are also the circus servants in the place of prison guards with truncheons, and “Mister Cellophane” in the clown costume who demonstrates the deeply true character of a meek and submissive man due to his appearance. The musicians play in this two-floor cage on the stage - this was also an innovation. They played pretty well while the director controlled them via preview monitors. The female singers also had to cope with this difficult situation when they, for example, started singing their solo part on the forestage and had the orchestra behind their backs. However, let’s not get involved in these fine directorial and musical details; it is important that everything worked well, and, it should be said, most professionally. It would be like bringing owls to Athens (or coals to Newcastle) to repeat, again and again, that the Brno City Theatre ensemble is always excellently prepared. Their acting, dancing as well as singing training is simply obvious. New faces keep arriving, and they are as equally capable as the experienced ones.
Almost all the characters are acted in alternation, and when I say in alternation, I mean it literally. There is no first (better) and second (erm…worse) actor as can be seen in many places. Both are really equal, though of course each person plays their role according to their nature. This is where the clever hand of the director can be discerned - he doesn’t merely create copies of the characters but makes use of the positive possibilities of the individual actors, including their physical features. The character of the prison matron “Mama” is acted by Alena Antalová and Markéta Sedláčková. With her appearance and energetic acting, Antalová is more like this character, but on the other hand, Sedláčková´s deep voice in her interpretation of the songs makes up for her delicate figure. Which of them is better? One cannot tell, as both of them are excellent and each of them in a different way. The other roles can be described in a similar way. The two murderesses, Velma and Roxie: Ivana Vaňková and Radka Coufalová are almost too different from each other. Their heights, interpretative and expressive means are different. On the other hand, the “second” actresses, Svetlana Slováková and Ivana Skálová, are beautifully similar, resulting in a “two-sister” show where the quarrelsome and jealous murderesses will find their way to each other. Again, it’s an irrelevant question as to which pair is better. Perhaps, purely from my personal point of view, I found the interpretation of Velma by young Slováková the most captivating. It is perhaps because I have been looking out and keeping my fingers crossed for her since the time she started at Brno City Theatre. However, Amos Hart, the submissive little man acted by Milan Němec and Lukáš Vlček, was really done ‘carbon copy’ style - sensitive, distinctive, and yet truly meek (you really need to see the performance to understand how to the role can be played both distinctively and meekly…).
Flynn, the lawyer, is another important character, played by Petr Gazdík in the first premiere and Dušan Vitázek in the second. Again, their physical features played a role here: Gazdík is more energetic and physical in his expression, while Vitázek is slyer and more cunning. Both of them do an excellent job of creating the character of one of those lawyers one would call a “scumbag”. A strange and demanding role was that of the MC. He already had a key role in the musical Cabaret as some sort of narrator of the ‘theatre within the theatre’ - a show man, enchanter, communicator with the audience. Director Moša chose two actors, Vojtěch Blahuta and Karel Škarka, for the part. Both of them are excellent piano players, and they accompany the singing parts all evening, either solo or with an orchestra. They make the musical atmosphere complete, each of them in a different way but both of them excellently. Blahuta is somehow softer in the details while Škarka is more monumental, both in his appearance and gestures. Well, it is hard to choose which one was better when they are so different, and yet they both capture the atmosphere of the musical. All of the actors, as well as the dance numbers which come from the original ballet version, can be evaluated in the same way. As far as the interpretation is concerned, the musical deserves an A.
I am not sure how the director’s conception for this piece was taken by spectators who have seen other productions of Chicago or who have (and they certainly have) seen the film. Some may have got used to the established versions and won’t be able to get into this Brno production. I personally liked the circus environment. I enjoyed the sort of contemporary circus tent in which everything takes place (including the musicians “in the cage”). Well, our whole surrounding world is such an unreal and yet real circus, full of machinations: the Čunek case, false Doctors of law, fraudulent state contracts, the tunneling of billions and, at the very lowest levels, the mysterious murder of little Anna and similarly awful crimes. Isn’t this our own “Circus Chicago”?
The tragicomic element which attracted ballet master Fosse and librettist Ebb originally is the desire for fame and publicity of those very simple girls who got themselves into a holding cell for committing murder. Roxie and Velma steal each other’s ideas as to how to popularize themselves in order to get the newspapers to write about them. They would do anything to become famous, and even forget that their life is in danger. Fame is more important. And those people from the media? It is a bunch of sensation hunters who want to give their readers and television audiences what they desire – the sound of shooting and the sight of blood. A small diversion: A nasty accident happened in the opposite lane while I was driving on the D1 motorway yesterday. Ambulance, firemen, helicopter, rescue workers – they were all at the scene. And on my side of the road? Two small accidents caused straight away by people curiously looking to see how many dead bodies they might be able to spot on the other side. Not many will admit this but unfortunately people very often hunger for someone else’s misfortune…
Perhaps this is why the musical Chicago isn’t a story from 1924. It is a tragicomic drama about us, and the world which we live in - a sad realization… On the other hand, it’s in the musical form with all the expressive means the genre presents, and so will entertain viewers, even though there is this awareness in the background that we aren’t watching America a long time ago, but ourselves and our own world. And this is, I think, the director’s fulfilled intention. Chicago has simply made a grand return to Brno, complete with its always valid appeal.
Chicago: a review by Czech radio 3 –Vltava radio station
David Kroča 15. March 2011 zdroj Czech radio 3 –Vltava radio station
Chicago: a review by Czech radio 3 –Vltava radio station
After Les Misérables, Evita and Mary Poppins, Brno City Theatre has presented another international-class musical. Chicago had its premiere on Broadway in 1975 and was performed in Brno only three years later by what was then the Mrštík Brothers´ Theatre, now Brno City Theatre. This musical has returned to the same stage in Brno thanks to a team lead by the theatre head and director, Stanislav Moša.
I have to admit that I like the effort of director Stanislav Moša to present Chicago as a parable about the influence of the media. The overrating of media messages as well as the creation of so called celebrities are topical issues which we don’t see at the theatre very often, unfortunately. In the musical they take the form of the true story of two murderesses who weren’t convicted even though they had provably committed the crimes, due to the help of an experienced advocate and a media campaign.
The protagonists Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly meet in a women’s prison in Chicago in the 1920s, a time when the city was ruled by corruption, violence and organized crime. Brno’s production follows in the tradition of the original Broadway production, and thus the environment of the women’s prison mingles with the image of a circus arena or cabaret. Each episode is, in fact, also a revue number which has its own gradation and ‘punchline’.
The inventive three-floor stage by Jaroslav Milfajt depicts a stylized prison with separate cells in which not only the charming actresses reside but also the individual members of the seventeen-member live orchestra. The stage is dominated by a grand piano lined with coloured bulbs at which the MC – a distinctive character combining clown and commentator, acted by Vojtěch Blahuta and Karel Škarka in alternation - plays his preludes. However, the success of this jazz opera depends on the performance of both main female roles. In the role of Roxie, Radka Coufalová alternates with Ivana Skálová, while Velma is played by Svetlana Slováková and Ivana Vaňková in alternation. In my opinion, Svetlana Slováková is a real discovery and not only for the future of Brno’s musical – she dances and sings flawlessly and moreover - like her colleague - also adds lightness and virtuosity to energetic Velma’s dance numbers.
The director tries to create a chilling atmosphere in which an important role is played by a tangible erotic charge. Charming actresses perform in skimpy costumes by Andrea Kučerová which often consist only of suspenders and black underwear - even a cramped prison cell or the top of the grand piano offer room for flirting. Violence, adultery and treachery are simply features which are “dear to the hearts” of the heroes of the story, as the MC says.
I like the choreographic elements in the style of Bob Fosse’s school, in which sensuality is refined and where every detail of a stylized move is important. In this respect, particularly the trial scene is fine-tuned to perfection - the lawyer played by Dušan Vitázek or Petr Gazdík, literally takes delight in his own legal dodges, which he accompanies with a refined tap dance number. It is as if he wanted to say with every step and lunge: ‘See, it is so easy to deceive people!’ For this message and more it is worth seeing Brno’s version of this famous musical.