Chicago (musical): Wikis


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Poster from the West End Production
Music John Kander
Lyrics Fred Ebb
Book Fred Ebb
Bob Fosse
Basis Chicago play by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Productions 1975 Broadway
1979 West End
International productions
1996 Broadway
1997 West End
2005 US Tour
2006 UK Tour
2009 UK Tour
2009 US Tour
Awards Tony Award for Best Revival

Tony Award for Best Choreography

Chicago is a Kander and Ebb musical set in Prohibition-era Chicago. The music is by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice, and the concept of the "celebrity criminal". The musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she had reported on.

The original Broadway production opened June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre[1] and ran for 936 performances. Bob Fosse choreographed the original production, and his style is strongly identified with the show. Chicago's 1996 Broadway revival holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on Broadway (not counting the revue Oh! Calcutta!) and is Broadway's sixth longest-running show. As of January 12, 2010, it has played for more than 5,400 performances. The revival was followed by a production on London's West End theatre and several tours and international productions. An Academy Award-winning film version of the musical was released in 2002, directed by Rob Marshall and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, and Queen Latifah.



The musical Chicago is based on a play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who had been assigned to cover the 1924 trials of murderesses Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune.

Annan, the model for the character of Roxie Hart, was 23 when she was accused of the April 3, 1924,[2] murder of Harry Kalstedt. The Tribune reported that Annan played the foxtrot record "Hula Lou" over and over for two hours before calling her husband to say she killed a man who "tried to make love to her". She was found "not guilty" on May 25, 1924. Velma is based on Gaertner, who was a cabaret singer. The body of Walter Law was discovered slumped over the steering wheel of Gaertner's abandoned car on March 12, 1924. Two police officers testified that they had seen a woman getting into the car and shortly thereafter heard gunshots. A bottle of gin and an automatic pistol were found on the floor of the car. Gaertner was acquitted on June 6, 1924. Lawyers William Scott Stewart and W. W. O'Brien were models for a composite character in Chicago, "Billy Flynn".[citation needed]

Watkins' sensational columns documenting these trials proved so popular that she decided to write a play based on them. The show received both popular and critical acclaim and even made it to Broadway in 1926, running for 172 performances. Cecil B. DeMille produced a silent film version, Chicago (1927),starring former Mack Sennett bathing beauty Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart. It was later remade as Roxie Hart (1942) starring Ginger Rogers, but in this version, Roxie was accused of murder without having really committed it.

In the 1960s, Gwen Verdon read the play and asked her husband, Bob Fosse, about the possibility of creating a musical adaptation. Fosse approached playwright Watkins numerous times to buy the rights, but she repeatedly declined. In her later years, Watkins had become a born-again Christian and believed her play glamorized a scandalous way of living.[2] However upon her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to producer Richard Fryer, Verdon and Fosse.[2] John Kander and Fred Ebb began work on the musical score, modeling each number on a traditional vaudeville number or a vaudeville performer. This format made explicit the show's comparison between "justice", "show-business", and contemporary society. Ebb and Fosse penned the book of the musical, with Fosse also directing and doing the choreography.

Plot synopsis

Act 1

Velma Kelly is a vaudevillian who murdered both her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together. She welcomes the audience to tonight's show ("All That Jazz"). Meanwhile, we hear of chorus girl Roxie Hart's murder of her lover, nightclub regular Fred Casely.

Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and Amos cheerfully takes the blame. Roxie expresses her appreciation of her husband's thick skull ("Funny Honey"). However, when the police mention the deceased's name Amos belatedly puts two and two together. The truth comes out, and Roxie is arrested. She is sent to the women's block in Cook County Jail, inhabited by Velma and other murderesses ("Cell Block Tango"). The block is presided over by the corrupt Matron "Mama" Morton, whose system of mutual aid ("When You're Good to Mama") perfectly suits her clientèle. She has helped Velma become the media's top murder-of-the-week and is acting as a booking agent for Velma's big return to vaudeville.

Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Roxie tries to convince Amos to pay for Billy Flynn to be her lawyer ("A Tap Dance"). Eagerly awaited by his all-girl clientèle, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fan dancers to prove his assertion that "All I Care About is Love". Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine, who always tries to find "A Little Bit of Good" in everyone. Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached for the Gun") while Roxie mouths the words. Roxie becomes the new toast of Chicago as Velma's fame is left in the dust. Velma tries to talk Roxie into recreating the sister act ("I Can't Do It Alone"), but Roxie turns her down, only to find her own headlines replaced by the latest sordid crime of passion. Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there's no one they can count on but themselves ("My Own Best Friend"), and the ever-resourceful Roxie decides that being pregnant in prison would put her back on the front page.

Act 2

Velma again welcomes the audience with the line "Hello, Suckers," another reference to Texas Guinan, who commonly greeted her patrons with the same phrase. She informs the audience of Roxie's continual run of luck ("I Know a Girl") despite Roxie's obvious falsehoods ("Me and My Baby"). A little shy on the arithmetic, Amos proudly claims paternity, and still nobody notices him ("Mr. Cellophane"). Velma tries to show Billy all the tricks she's got planned for her trial ("When Velma Takes The Stand"). With her ego growing, Roxie has a heated argument with Billy, and fires him. She is brought back down to earth when she learns that a fellow inmate has been executed. The trial date arrives, and Billy calms her, telling her if she makes a show of it, she'll be fine ("Razzle Dazzle"), but when he passes all Velma's ideas on to Roxie, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, Mama and Velma lament the demise of "Class". As promised, Billy gets Roxie her acquittal but, just as the verdict is given, some even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away, and Roxie's fleeting celebrity life is over. Billy leaves, done with the case. Amos stays with her, glad for his wife. But she then confesses that there isn't really a baby. Amos leaves her. Left in the dust, Roxie pulls herself up and extols the joys of life "Nowadays". She teams up with Velma in a new act, in which they dance and perform the "Hot Honey Rag" until they are joined by the entire company for the grand "Finale".[3].

Musical numbers and analysis

Many of the musical numbers in Chicago are based on traditional vaudeville acts including some based on particular vaudevillian performers.[1] The musical numbers are listed below with a description of these antecedents where applicable:

  • "Overture" - performed by a pit-band
  • "All That Jazz" - a number in homage to famous speakeasy owner Texas Guinan[1]
  • "Funny Honey" - modeled on Helen Morgan and Judy Garland's performances
  • "Cell Block Tango" - the "merry murderesses" evoke the "ethnic numbers" of Vaudeville, and the death by hanging is staged as a "tightrope" act
  • "When You're Good to Mama" - a Sophie Tucker[1]/Mae West/Pearl Bailey -type double-entendre song, playing on the implied lesbianism of the character
  • "A Tap Dance" - a soft shoe
  • "All I Care About" - a striptease based on Sally Rand and her fan dance, with Billy Flynn spoofing Al Jolson and bandleader Ted "Is Everybody Happy?" Lewis
  • "A Little Bit of Good" - Mary Sunshine, a female-impersonator reminiscent of Julian Eltinge singing a Jerome Kern parody as Marilyn Miller
  • "We Both Reached for the Gun" aka "The Press Conference Rag" - a ventriloquist act
  • "Roxie" - an autobiographical, observational stand-up comedy routine à la Fanny Brice
  • "I Can't Do It Alone" - half of a "double-act" (or an acrobatic "sister-act")
  • "My Own Best Friend" - a torch song, subverted by the fact the singers are praising themselves. A tribute to Manhattan Serenade.
  • "I Know A Girl"- A conversation with the audience, breaking the fourth wall, in the style of Texas Guinan
  • "Me and My Baby" - a cakewalk, à la Eddie Cantor
  • "Mr. Cellophane" - a clown number reminiscent of Bert Williams'[1] song "Nobody" performed by Amos Hart wearing the costume of Emil Jannings from the final scene of The Blue Angel
  • "When Velma Takes the Stand" - evokes vaudeville's courtroom comedy sketches, and staged as a parody of production numbers featuring collegiate chorus boys with megaphones (i.e. Good News). The music itself is a take-off on piano novelties such as those popularized by Zez Confrey.
  • "Razzle Dazzle" - Flynn assumes the persona of Clarence Darrow in a juggling circus act
  • "Class" - A satirical number about the downfall of society, ironically full of swearing and allusions to bodily functions.
  • "Nowadays" - a song reminiscent of Kander and Ebb's "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret
  • "Hot Honey Rag" - a Charleston finale by Velma and Roxie


Original Broadway production

The Original Cast Recording

Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville opened on June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre, and ran for a total of 936 performances, closing on August 27, 1977.[4] The opening night cast starred Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart, and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn. Velma Kelly had been a comparatively minor character in all versions of Chicago prior to the musical rendering. The role was fleshed out to balance Chita Rivera's role opposite Gwen Verdon's Roxie Hart. The musical received mixed reviews. The Brechtian style of the show, which frequently dropped the fourth wall, made audiences uncomfortable. It brought attention to the fact that the show was really about the world we live in, paralleling the glamorization of criminals with how society itself makes criminals into celebrities.

It was through this production, and not the writing, that much of the "traditional" Chicago staging conventions were developed:

  • The double snap in "Razzle Dazzle" was added as an afterthought at the suggestion of Fred Ebb to John Kander. Kander did not like the idea, but Ebb thought Fosse would love it. He did.
  • During rehearsals, "Razzle Dazzle" was originally staged as an orgy on the steps of the courthouse. Fosse was talked out of allowing this staging to make it into the final production.
  • The original finale was "Loopin' the Loop", and based on music submitted to Kander and Ebb by Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. It was decided that the piece was too lighthearted, so the piece was cut and replaced with "Nowadays". Sections of "Loopin' the Loop" can still be heard in the Overture. Two other sections termed "Keep It Hot" and "RSVP" were cut from the finale too.
  • Until the tryouts, there was another principal character, played by David Rounds and known simply as "The Agent," whose role was to exploit the notoriety of the prisoners for his own gain. He also served as the evening's M.C. This character's role was eventually folded into that of Matron Mama Morton, his song "Ten Percent" was cut, and various members of the chorus shared his emcee duties.
  • In a reversal of roles, Fosse decided the lyrics to the number "Class" were too offensive and censored Kander and Ebb's original version of the song. One of the original lyrics "Every guy is a snot/Every girl is a twat" was restored for the 2002 movie, although the entire number was cut from the final release of the movie.

The show had the misfortune of opening the same year as Michael Bennett's highly successful A Chorus Line, which beat out Chicago in both ticket sales and at the Tony Awards.[5] The show was on the verge of closing, when it ran into another setback: Gwen Verdon inhaled a feather during the finale, which resulted in a throat infection.

The producers contemplated closing the show, but Liza Minnelli[6] stepped in and offered to play the role of Roxie Hart in place of Verdon. Her run lasted a month, and Gwen Verdon recuperated and returned to the show. Later during the run, Ann Reinking, who starred in the highly successful 1996 revival[7] and choreographed that production in the style of Bob Fosse, was also a cast replacement for Roxie Hart during the show's original run. [6]

City Center's "Encores!"

In 1996, City Center announced that Chicago was to be included in its fall line up of "Encores!" series. The series had been previously used exclusively to bring attention to older, more obscure musicals that might have otherwise have been forgotten.

The production was directed by Walter Bobbie with choreography "in the style of Bob Fosse" by Ann Reinking, who also starred as Roxie Hart. Also in the show was Bebe Neuwirth as Velma Kelly, Joel Grey as Amos Hart and James Naughton as Billy Flynn. The show was well-received, despite the fact that performers were still holding scripts and the choreography was sometimes unpolished. By intermission on opening night, there was talk of a full scale revival.

Broadway revival

Chicago: The Musical at the Ambassador Theatre, New York, May 2007

Barry and Fran Weissler brought the concert version of Chicago, now titled Chicago: The Musical directly to Broadway, where it opened on November 14, 1996. The show set a record for recovering its initial costs faster than any other musical in history. This is likely due to the stripped down nature of the show: the set is nothing more than a giant bandstand, and the costumes are minimalist and black.

Unlike its predecessor Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, Chicago: The Musical was met with praise from audiences and critics alike. Society had changed in light of events such as the O. J. Simpson murder case, and audiences were more receptive to the criminal-as-celebrity theme of the show.[8]

Chicago: The Musical won six Tony Awards, more than any other revival in Broadway history until being beat out by South Pacific which won seven, winning for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Bebe Neuwirth, Best Leading Actor in a Musical for James Naughton, Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Ken Billington, Best Director of a Musical for Walter Bobbie and Best Choreography for Ann Reinking. While still married to Verdon, Fosse also romanced Reinking, who eventually took over the role of Roxie when Verdon left the show. Reinking reprised this role in the 1996 revival, when she was 46.

Chicago: The Musical has run for over 5,400 performances as of January 10, 2010 and holds the record for longest-running musical revival on Broadway, second only to the nude revue "Oh! Calcutta." Chicago is currently the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever.[9] During its run, the show has played in three Broadway theatres - the Richard Rodgers Theatre (the same theatre where the original 1975 production played, at the time called the 46th Street Theatre), the Shubert Theatre and the Ambassador Theatre.

The Grammy Award winning cast recording of the revival was released on January 14, 2003.

West End production

On November 18, 1997, Chicago: The Musical opened in London's West End.[10] [11] The show ran at the Adelphi Theatre for 9 years until transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006.

The original cast of the production included German jazz singer, Ute Lemper as Velma, British actress Ruthie Henshall as Roxie Hart, Nigel Planer as Amos Hart and Henry Goodman as Billy Flynn. The production won the 1998 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical, and Lemper was awarded Best Actress in a Musical. Both Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall have played the role of Velma Kelly on Broadway to great acclaim.

The London production, like its Broadway counterpart, has featured many acclaimed international celebrities and actors in the starring roles. For example, Marti Pellow, David Hasselhoff, John Barrowman, Tony Hadley and Jerry Springer have all played the role of Billy Flynn since 2002. Maria Friedman, Josefina Gabrielle, Denise Van Outen, Claire Sweeney, Linzi Hateley, Frances Ruffelle, Rebecca Thornhill, Jennifer Ellison, Jill Halfpenny, Brooke Shields, Sally Ann Triplett, Bonnie Langford, Tina Arena, Ashlee Simpson, Aoife Mulholland and Michelle Williams have all played Roxie Hart since the show opened in 1998. Williams (from the R&B group Destiny's Child) is the first African American woman to play the part of Roxie on the West End stage. Original cast member Ruthie Henshall has returned to the show recently to recreate the role of Roxie. There is also a professional touring cast of the musical. [12]

International productions

There have been professional productions of Chicago in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, South Korea, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Israel, South Africa, China, Australia, Singapore, Poland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, as well as amateur productions in Croatia, Serbia, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand, Cyprus, Norway, India, Pakistan and Albania.

Chicago productions based on the original Broadway were mounted in London (UK) - starring Jenny Logan as Velma Kelly and Antonia Ellis as Roxie Hart and Vienna (Austria) starring Isabel Wiecken as Velma Kelly in 1979 and 1981, respectively. An Australian production with Nancye Hayes as Roxie Hart, Geraldine Turner as Velma Kelly and Terrance Donovan as Billy Flynn in the early 1980s.

Chicago has given the opportunity for the stars of foreign productions to make their Broadway debuts including Bianca Marroquin (Mexico), Denise Van Outen (UK), Terra C. Macleod (France and Canada), Petra Nielsen (Sweden), Ute Lemper (UK), Ruthie Henshall (UK), Anna Montanaro (Austria and Germany) Pia Douwes (The Netherlands), Marti Pellow (UK), Caroline O'Connor (Australia).

The first Japanese-language production of the Tony-winning revival of Kander and Ebb's Chicago debuted in October 2008 at the Akasaka ACT Theatre in Tokyo, Japan, followed by an engagement at Osaka's Umeda Art Theatre. [13]

Presented by Barry and Fran Weissler in association with Tokyo Broadcasting System, Inc. and Kyodo Tokyo Inc., the production starred Ryoko Yonekura as Roxie Hart, Yōka Wao as Velma Kelly and Ryuichi Kawamura as Billy Flynn.

Although the touring production of Chicago was first presented in Japan in 1999 — it has since toured the country three times — this will mark the first production of the hit musical to be heard in Japanese.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Chicago". Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c Grubb, Kevin Boyd (1989). Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Work of Bob Fosse. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 193–203. ISBN 0-312-03414-8. 
  3. ^ Plot Summary based on that of Bill Rosenfield, copyright 1997 BMG Music
  4. ^ Chicago original 1975 run at IBDB
  5. ^ "Chicago - a musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse". Retrieved June 25, 2007. 
  6. ^ a b Chicago 1975 original production, cast replacements at IBDB
  7. ^ Chicago 1996 revival at IBDB
  8. ^ "Online NewsHour: Chicago, the Musical--May 30, 1997". Retrieved June 25, 2007. 
  9. ^ Chicago to Become Broadway's Sixth Longest-Running Production
  10. ^ Timeline at
  11. ^ "Chicago", accessed May 27, 2009
  12. ^ West End Programme, published November 2003
  13. ^

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