Below, Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, reviews Karachi’s production of Chicago, the renowned musical about the city of Chicago in the 1920s, [to see Jackie’s other posts, click here]:
I was very excited to see many of the city’s prominent billboards advertising for the musical production of Chicago, and in English! While I have heard much about Pakistan’s theater scene, particularly in Lahore, many of these plays are in Urdu and are therefore inaccessible to me. While I had never actually seen the musical nor the popular movie – I couldn’t resist an English play and immediately bought tickets. Before reading my critique, I would like to make a small disclaimer: I have only been to a handful of live musicals in my life, and none in Pakistan.
Due to my unfamiliarity with Chicago, I was instantly shocked by the play’s overtly sexual tone and the incredibly seductive, sensual female characters. For those also ignorant – the play portrays a snapshot of the city of Chicago in the 1920s – a time of jazz and excess in a city ripe with thugs and speakeasies. The story follows the lives of a group of women, jailed for killing their husbands or lovers over seedy reasons involving love, sex and betrayal. A hustler and sleazy lawyer take advantage of these women’s stories for personal fame and money, manipulating the press to spin spectacular tales about the women and portraying them in the courtroom as poor, helpless souls.
The most entertaining and surprising aspect of the musical given our setting in conservative Pakistan, was the overt portrayal of stark sexuality. The Cell Block Tango, the main song and dance number, involves women dancing seductively on and around chairs bemoaning the gruesome, sordid details of their husband’s dalliances and subsequent murders. One of the characters kills her husband because she catches him with a girl ‘spread eagle’ on the floor. Another character laments about her husband’s poor performance in the bedroom. These issues are not mentioned in even some of the most liberal, elite households I spend my time in. The costumes hugged every curve of the actresses’ bodies and sheer black tights did little to hide long legs – a complete contrast to the often abaya-covered women of Karachi’s streets.
Roxy Hart, the main role, was played by Sanam Saeed who stole the show. Sanam completely embodied the character, and I was utterly transfixed by her performance. Each little action and mannerism and the all the intonations in her speech oozed sexuality. She mimicked the Chicago accent very well! In fact, I didn’t realize until looking at the program during intermission that she was Pakistani – I assumed her to be an American. Momin Zafar also gave a wonderful performance, playing the part of Roxie’s pathetic, puppy-love husband Amos Hart.
Unfortunately, aside from Sanam and Momin, many of the other characters were not up to speed. While I thought the acting was good, particularly the difficult Chicago accents each of the characters adapted, their musical and dancing performances were lackluster. Many of their voices were not strong enough for the stage nor were their dance moves very inspiring. The dances seemed too mechanical and rehearsed. That being said, at the last minute the production company had to change venues, and the stage went from an indoor area to an outdoor area. I would assume this involves a change in acoustics and a different sound system – perhaps the late venue change deserves at least part of the blame.
All-in-all an enjoyable two hours, and fascinating to see such sexually-charged performances and controversial themes played out under bright lights here in Pakistan.
The musical finished its Karachi run on January 20th. It will run in Lahore from January 30 – February 6, 2009. For ticket information, click here.