- Chicago (musical)
Poster from the Broadway revival
Music John Kander Lyrics Fred Ebb Book Fred Ebb
Basis Chicago play by Maurine Dallas Watkins Productions 1975 Broadway
1979 West End
1996 Broadway revival
1997 West End
1997, 1999, 2000, 2003-2008 North American tours
2006, 2009 UK tours
Awards Tony Award for Best Revival
Tony Award for Best Choreography
Chicago is a 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 reported on.
The original Broadway production opened June 3, 1975, at the 46th Street Theatre 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 and is its fourth longest-running show. As of April 2011, it has played for more than 5,900 performances. The musical was produced in London's West End and on several tours and international productions. The Academy Award-winning film version (2002) of the musical was directed by Rob Marshall and starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, and Queen Latifah.
- 1 History
- 2 Synopsis
- 3 Musical numbers
- 4 Principal characters
- 5 Musical and staging style
- 6 Productions
- 7 Recordings
- 8 Awards and nominations
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The musical Chicago is based on a play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was 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, 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."
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. However, upon her death in 1969, her estate sold the rights to producer Richard Fryer, Verdon, and Fosse. 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, and Fosse also directed and choreographed.
- Act 1
In the mid 1920s in Chicago, Illinois, 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 clientele. 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 also 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 clientele, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fan dancers ("All I Care About is Love"). Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine ("A Little Bit of Good"). Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached for the Gun") to the press while Roxie mouths the words.
Roxie becomes the new toast of Chicago and she proclaims so boastfully while planning for her future career in vaudeville ("Roxie"). As Roxie's fame grows, Velma's notoriety is left in the dust and in an "act of pure desperation", she 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, she uses each one, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, to the dismay of Mama and Velma ("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, making Amos finally leave 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 ("Hot Honey Rag") until they are joined by the entire company ("Finale").
- Act 1
- "All That Jazz" - Velma Kelly and Company
- "Funny Honey" - Roxie Hart, Amos Hart and Investigator
- "When You're Good to Mama" - Matron "Mama" Morton
- "Cell Block Tango" - Velma and the Murdresses
- "All I Care About" - Billy Flynn and the Girls
- "A Little Bit of Good" - Mary Sunshine
- "We Both Reached for the Gun" - Billy, Roxie, Mary and the Reporters
- "Roxie" - Roxie and the Boys
- "I Can't Do It Alone" - Velma
- "My Own Best Friend" - Roxie and Velma
- Act 2
- "I Know a Girl"- Velma
- "Me and My Baby" - Roxie and Company
- "Mr. Cellophane" - Amos
- "When Velma Takes the Stand" - Velma and the Boys
- "Razzle Dazzle" - Billy and Company
- "Class" - Velma and Mama Morton
- "Nowadays" - Velma and Roxie
- "Hot Honey Rag" - Velma and Roxie
- "Finale" - Company
- Velma Kelly - A vaudevillian and murderess who is on trial for killing her cheating husband and sister. She is represented by Billy Flynn and competes with Roxie Hart over him.
- Roxanne "Roxie" Hart - A wannabe vaudevillian and murderess who kills her ex-boyfriend after a spat and is sent to jail.
- William "Billy" Flynn - Velma and Roxie's lawyer who has a perfect track record and makes celebrities of his clients to win sympathy and sway public opinion.
- Amos Hart - Roxie's faithful and good-natured, but simple husband whom nobody pays attention to. He spends most of the play trying to make Roxie take interest in him or even just acknowledge his existence.
- Matron "Mama" Morton - The matron of the Cook County Jail who believes that all favors she gives should be reciprocated.
- Mary Sunshine - The newspaper reporter who follows the trials of both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly. In most productions, Sunshine is revealed to be a male at the end of the show.
Musical and staging style
According to Fred Ebb, he wrote the book in a vaudeville style because "the characters were performers. Every musical moment in the show was loosely modeled on someone else: Roxie was Helen Morgan, Velma was Texas Guinan, Billy Flynn was Ted Lewis, Mama Morton was Sophie Tucker." Kander elaborates that the reason the show was called a vaudeville "is because many of the songs we wrote are related to specific performers like those you mentioned, and Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams as well."
It was through the initial production, and not the writing, that many 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 explains: "I remember when we wrote "Razzle Dazzle", before we took it in and played it for Bob, you [Ebb] said with absolute confidence 'Try adding a couple of finger snaps to it. Bobby will love that.' We added them...and as soon as he heard the finger snaps, he loved the song." During rehearsals, "Razzle Dazzle" was originally staged as an orgy on the steps of the courthouse. Fosse was talked out of allowing this staging, when Jerry Orbach "convinced him that he was missing the Brechtian subtlety intrinsic in the number."
The original finale was "Loopin' the Loop", a doubles act with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera; however, "the scene seemed too much like an amateur act so Fosse asked for something more 'glamorous in pretty gowns'". 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 as well.
Another principal character was 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 and the song "Ten Percent" was cut, with the character folded into that of Matron Mama Morton, 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.
Original Broadway production
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. The opening night cast starred Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart, Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn and Barney Martin as Amos Hart. 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. According to James Leve, "'Chicago' is cynical and subversive, exploiting American cultural mythologies in order to attack American celebrity culture."
The show opened 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. The show was on the verge of closing, when it ran into another setback: Gwen Verdon had to have surgery on nodes in her throat after inhaling a feather during the show's finale. The producers contemplated closing the show, but Liza Minnelli stepped in and offered to play the role of Roxie Hart in place of Verdon. Her run lasted a month, boosting the show's popularity, and Gwen Verdon recuperated and returned to the show. Later during the run, Ann Reinking, who would go on to star in the highly successful 1996 revival and choreograph that production in the style of Bob Fosse, was also a cast replacement for Roxie Hart during the show's original run.
1979 West End
The first West End, London production opened at the Cambridge Theatre in April 1979 and ran for around 600 performances. It starred Jenny Logan as Velma Kelly and Antonia Ellis as Roxie Hart. Ellis (Actress of the Year in a Musical) and Ben Cross (Actor of the Year in a Musical) were nominated for the Olivier Award for their performances, and the musical was nominated as Musical of the Year.
1996 Broadway revival
City Center Encores! series presented Chicago in May 1996. The series had been previously used exclusively to bring attention to older, more obscure musicals that might have otherwise 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. Performers were holding scripts and the choreography was sometimes unpolished. The show was well-received, with Howard Kissel, reviewing for the New York Daily News writing that "This 'Chicago' impressed me far more than the original.". Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times, wrote " 'Make love to the audience' was another Fosse dictum. That's exactly what Ms. Reinking and her ensemble do. 'Chicago' can still seem glibly cynical and artificially cold, especially in its weaker second act. But these performers know just how to take off the chill." By May 10, 1996, there was talk of a Broadway production: "Down the block, there is a move afoot to move the Encores production of "Chicago" to Broadway. Rocco Landesman said that he and Fran and Barry Weissler wanted to bring the production to the Martin Beck Theater this summer."
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, with a new script by David Thompson. 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.
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. Chicago is currently the fourth longest-running Broadway show ever. 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 28, 1997. The show currently features Tony Yazbeck (Billy Flynn), Chris Sullivan (Amos), Carol Woods (Matron "Mama" Morton), Kara DioGuardi (Roxie), and Amra-Faye Wright (Velma). Among the many other performers and celebrities who have appeared in the show during its long run are Usher, Michael C. Hall, Jerry Springer, Brooke Shields, Kevin Richardson, Melora Hardin, Rita Wilson, Melanie Griffith, Taye Diggs, Chandra Wilson, John O'Hurley, Ashlee Simpson, Leigh Zimmerman, Samantha Harris, Marilu Henner, Jeff McCarthy, Christie Brinkley, and Sofía Vergara.
1997 London revival
On November 18, 1997, Chicago: The Musical opened in London's West End. Like the New York revival, it is directed by Walter Bobbie and designed by John Lee Beatty, with choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse. The show ran at the Adelphi Theatre for nine 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, Jerry Springer, Kevin Richardson, and Ian Kelsey have all played the role of Billy Flynn since 2002. Maria Friedman, Josefina Gabrielle, Denise Van Outen, Claire Sweeney, Linzi Hateley, Frances Ruffelle, Jennifer Ellison, Jill Halfpenny, Brooke Shields, Sally Ann Triplett, Bonnie Langford, Tina Arena, Ashlee Simpson, Aoife Mulholland, Michelle Williams, and Christie Brinkley have all played Roxie Hart since 1998. Williams was the first African American woman to play the part of Roxie on the West End stage. There is also a professional touring cast of the musical.
North American tours
There have been ten North American national tours of Chicago. The first tour started in April 1997 in Cincinnati, Ohio, six months after the revival opened on Broadway. The cast featured Charlotte d'Amboise (Roxie Hart), Jasmine Guy (Velma Kelly), Obba Babatunde (Billy Flynn) and Carol Woods (Matron "Mama" Morton). A second company started in December 1997 in Tampa, Florida. The tour went on hiatus in Fall 1999 and started again in October 1999 in Denver, Colorado, featuring Robert Urich as Billy Flynn, Vicki Lewis (Velma) and Nana Visitor (Roxie). The next tour started in October 2000 in Stamford, Connecticut, with Robert Urich. Chita Rivera joined the tour for several weeks.
The 2003 tour started in June 2003 at the National Theatre, Washington, DC, with Brenda Braxton playing Velma, Bianca Marroquin as Roxie, and Gregory Harrison as Billy Flynn. During 2004 the tour cast included Tom Wopat as Billy Flynn and Carol Woods as Matron "Mama" Morton. The most recent tour started in November 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina and starred Tom Wopat as Billy Flynn, Bianca Marroquin as Roxie Hart, Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly and Roz Ryan (later replaced by Carol Woods) as Matron "Mama" Morton.
There have been professional productions of Chicago in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Iceland, Romania, South Korea, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Israel, South Africa, China, Australia, Singapore, Poland, Czech Republic, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, as well as amateur productions in Croatia, Serbia, Spain, Hungary, New Zealand, Cyprus, Norway, India, Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey and Albania.
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.
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.
A Spanish production of the revival opened at Teatro Coliseum, Madrid on November 26, 2009 and closed on July 18, 2010, after a very successful season. Produced by Stage Entertainment, the cast included Natalia Millán as Velma Kelly, Marcela Paoli as Roxie Hart, Manuel Bandera as Billy Flynn, Fedor de Pablos as Amos Hart, Linda Mirabal as Mama Morton and Gerónimo Rauch as Mary Sunshine. On August 12, the Spanish production started a national tour with some changes in the cast, including Marta Ribera as Velma Kelly, María Blanco as Roxie Hart, Carlos Lozano as Billy Flynn (later replaced by Manuel Rodríguez) and Jaume Giró as Mary Sunshine.
There have been many Cast recordings of Chicago:
- 1975 Original Broadway cast
- 1996 Broadway Revival
- 1998 London Cast 
- 1997 German Cast- Live Cast Album (With Anna Montanaro)
- 1999 Dutch Cast - Live Cast Album, 2 discs (with Pia Douwes)
The 1999 Live Dutch Cast Recording is the only recording to include both the Finale, Act 1 and "I Can't Do It Alone" reprise. The other three either have one track or the other.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result 1975 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical Jerry Orbach Nominated Outstanding Lighting Design Jules Fisher Won Tony Award Best Musical Nominated Best Book of a Musical Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb Nominated Best Original Score Fred Ebb and John Kander Nominated Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Jerry Orbach Nominated Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Chita Rivera Nominated Gwen Verdon Nominated Best Direction of a Musical Bob Fosse Nominated Best Choreography Nominated Best Scenic Design Tony Walton Nominated Best Costume Design Patricia Zipprodt Nominated Best Lighting Design Jules Fisher Nominated
Original London production
Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result 1979 Laurence Olivier Award Best New Musical Nominated Best Actor in a Musical Ben Cross Nominated Best Actress in a Musical Antonia Ellis Nominated
1996 Broadway revival
1997 London revival
Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result 1997 Laurence Olivier Award Outstanding Musical Production Won Best Actor in a Musical Henry Goodman Nominated Best Actress in a Musical Ute Lemper Won Ruthie Henshall Nominated Best Director Walter Bobbie Nominated Best Theatre Choreographer Ann Reinking Nominated Best Costume Design William Ivey Long Nominated
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- Chicago at the Internet Broadway Database
- Chicago, The Musical, Official Website
- Chicago on Floormic.com
- Chicago, El Musical, Spanish Production Official Website
- Plot summary, character descriptions & licensing info for Chicago
- New Velma on B'way
- Gerónimo Rauch-Mary Sunshine in Chicago (Spain)
- Ovrtur.com Listing
- Chicago Song Lyrics
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical (1994–2000) Complete list · (1994–2000) · (2001–2025) Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival (1991–2000) Complete list · (1991–2000) · (2001–2025) Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical (1994–2000) Complete list · (1994–2000) · (2001–2025) Kander and Ebb musicals The works of Bob Fosse Films TelevisionLiza with a Z (1972) TheatreThe Pajama Game (1954) • Damn Yankees (1955) • Bells Are Ringing (1956) • New Girl in Town (1958) • Redhead (1959) • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961) • Little Me (1962) • Pleasures and Palaces (1965) • Sweet Charity (1966) • Pippin (1972) • Liza (1974) • Chicago (1975) • Dancin' (1978) • Big Deal (1986)
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