Dance with the devil – and pray you’ll get burnt.

Posted: March 6, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews


Chicago – dance with the devil in the red dress.

A Review

© Astrid Stark


It is 1929 – the rain lashes at my face as I run through a dirty alley in downtown Chicago. I glance at my watch – damn it! I am late for an interview with the notorious vaudeville star Velma Kelly. Luckily Dame Kelly has acquired a fine appreciation for newshawks. The sour face of her skinny manager greets me as I run up the stairs.  He hisses as I squeeze by him and push open the velvety dressing room door.


‘You’re late!’ Velma sneers.


‘You look gorgeous,’ I retort – tossing my flogger on a chair and flipping open a shabby notebook.


Velma Kelly is sitting on a straight-backed chair with her long slender legs, sheathed in thigh-high fishnet stockings, folded neatly under her slim body.  A silky crimson robe glides across her angular shoulders and kisses the soft contours of her arms before plunging down her chest.  Her shock of white hair is cropped in a neat Eton that frames a vampish face, from which a pair of dark eyes glare at me, ‘You got 15 minutes, sunshine,’ she purrs as friendly as a barbed wire fence.


I suck at my pen – then fire away, ‘You’re implicated in a double homicide Velma.  The papers call you the most sensual slayer this side of Chicago. Honest on the square, what happened that night at the hotel Cicero?’


Velma pops one into her 10 inch rhinestone cigarette holder, wraps her scarlet lips around it and takes a long draw. ‘So you wanna know what really happened?’ she exhales?


‘Yes,’ I nod emphatically.


Her dark eyes settle on a water stain against the ceiling.

‘It’s like this… My sister, Veronica and I had this double act. And my husband Charlie travelled around with us.  One night before a show, we were at the hotel Cicero.  The three of us were enjoying the tiger’s milk – having a few laughs… and we ran out of ice. I volunteered to get some.’


A woman shrieks outside in the passage and a shiver crawls up my spine.


Velma takes a deep draw from her cigarette and carries on, ‘So, I come back, open the door, and there is Veronica and Charlie – doing the… spread-eagle!’


She shot a dangerous look at me.  I try not to flinch. 


‘Then what happened?’


Velma’s intelligent face disintegrates into a melodramatic mask of suffering.  ‘Well, I was in such a state of shock.  I blacked out.  It wasn’t until later when I was washing the blood from my hands that I knew – They were dead!’  She slowly lifts her downcast eyes and whispers, ‘They had it comin’,’


Chicago is a musical satire based on the real life misadventures of two sexy murderesses that manipulated the media and became overnight celebrities.  Chicago Tribune reporter, Maurine Watkins wrote a comedy titled, Chicago, that reached Broadway in 1926. In the South African production Amra- Faye Wright plays cabaret killer, Velma Kelly, with surgical precision, much to the delight of audiences. 


The curtains rise as the live band strikes up the jaunty number, ‘All that Jazz’.  A raunchy Amra Faye-Wright takes to the stage in a tiny frock with fishnet stockings, garter belt, slicked down hair, and buckled- up shoes.  Her voice is strong and her body language oozes confidence…


… ‘I know a whoopdie spot

Where the gin is cold,

but the piano’s hot…


It’s just a noise hall

where there’s a nightly brawl

And all that jazz…’


‘They had it coming.  If you’d been there, I bet you’d have done the same!’  Velma throws back her slender neck and roars with laughter.


I shake the heebie-jeebies and quickly change direction, ‘I hear you got shyster Billy Flynn on your side of the law?’


A little smile teases Velma’s lips – ‘We got a history together, Billy and I.’ She purrs…


– Enters the silver tongued prince of the courtroom – South African actor Graig Urbani plays the role of superslick lawyer, Billy Flynn.  Flynn is fast talking, ruthless and a devilishly good looking lawyer that has never lost a case. Performing a piece called, ‘All I care about…’ the cunning Flynn professes his love for the legal system.  He is adored by long-legged broads dressed in flapper dresses, glovelets and feather boas.  The girls pour themselves like syrup over his vintage clad body. He thrives under the attention and the audience is enthralled as Flynn croons…

…‘I don’t mean to blow my own horn,

But believe me, if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today,

and if he had $5000, and he had come to me –

things would have turned out differently.’


Velma’s eyes are far away and I gently bring her back, ‘You may have a history with lawyer Billy Flynn,’ I say, ‘but your corrupt relationship with Mama Morton is very much present tense.’


Velma angrily smiles at me in the mirror, and I can almost see her dumping the gun in the drawer and wiping the blood off her hands, ‘You leave mama out of this,’ she sneers.  ‘You obviously ain’t never been in jail before – a girl need her allies down there you know.’


And now ladies and gentlemen! The keeper of the keys. The mistress of murder row.  Matron Mama Morton! – Enters actress Ilse Klink –  The band plays the sultry saxophone and blaring horns.  The audience erupts, clapping and cheering.  Klink’s performance as the raunchy, voluptuous jail warden goes down like as a shot of fine whisky on a cold lonely night as she huskily sings….  “When you’re good to Momma…’

… ‘the folks a top the ladder,

Are the one’s the world adore

So boost me up my ladder,

And I’ll boost you up yours…’


I look at Velma’s beautiful face in a mirror framed with tiny light bulbs, and I can hear the frenzied media’s camera lights popping and hissing whenever she appears.


 And then there is your nemeses – Roxy Hart?’  I wade into the deep end.’


The temperature in the dressing room drops and a very angry Velma turns to me with very ugly sneer across her lovely lips, ‘Chicago in the 20’s is an especially tough time for a vaudeville dancer, she spits at me. ‘I clawed my way up to the top during prohibition time, a time when a woman was supposed to stay at home.   But, I was never as desperate as that Roxy Hart!’


I had to ask, ‘Are you referring to the fake pregnancy incident?’


Wannabee cabaret artist and jailbird Roxy Hart faked a pregnancy in jail and thus stole the limelight – lawyer Billy Flynn – from Velma Kelly.  Of course, Flynn was right in on the act.


Velma laughs, ‘It’s brilliant – genius really…can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself.’

Her face hardens.  ‘First she stole my publicity and then she steals my lawyer.  I am pretty pissed off that Billy Flynn pushed me aside for Roxy.  Sure is one manipulative bitch…’


I look into the mirror and find Amra Faye– Kelly there:  gentle, intelligent, beautiful and witty.  She smiles knowingly at me,  ‘The art of cabaret lies in taking songs out of their original context and giving them new interpretations. It’s necessary to draw deeply from one’s life experiences’,  then she grins ‘So I am happy to say that the older I get the more proficient I become.’


Velma Kelly spins around in her chair and snarls, ‘Time’s up – sugar,’ then she turns back and studies her face in the mirror.


Catch Amray-Faye Wright, her nemesis, played by Samantha Peo, and the rest of the Chicago cast at the Teatro Montecasino in Joburg from 22April – 11 May.  Amra- Faye Wright has performed in the 10th anniversary productions of Chicago on Broadway and in the West End.  When Faye Wright is not playing the role of a chilling cabaret killer she writes award winning one– woman shows, records her own music and is the mother to two teenage daughters.



1920’s speak.


Newshawks: reporters

Flogger:  overcoat

Eton: Short back and sides hairstyle

Tiger’s milk:  an alcoholic beverage

Honest on the square: telling the truth

Heebie- jeebies: jitters

Shyster: lawyer







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