"Chicago" by Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse
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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.

Synopsis

ACT ONE

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.

Numbers Characters
All That Jazz Velma & Company
Funny Honey Roxie
Cell Block Tango Velma and the Girls
When You're Good to Mama Matron
Tap Dance Roxie, Amos and Boys
All I Care About Billy and Girls
A Little Bit of Good Mary Sunshine
We Both Reached for the Gun Billy, Roxie, Mary Sunshine & Company
Roxie Roxie and Boys
I Can't Do it Alone Velma
Chicago After Midnight The Band
My Own Best Friend Roxie and Velma

ACT TWO

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").

Numbers Characters
I Know a Girl Velma
Me and My Baby Roxie, Chris and Gene
Mister Cellophane Amos
When Velma Takes the Stand Velma and Boys
Razzle Dazzle Billy and Company
Class Velma and Matron
Nowadays Roxie
Nowadays Roxie and Velma
R.S.V.P. Roxie and Velma
Keep it Hot Roxie and Velma

Characters

  • Velma Kelly
  • Roxie Hart
  • Fred Casely
  • Sergeant Fogarty
  • Amos Hart
  • Liz
  • Annie
  • June
  • Hunyak
  • Mona
  • Martin Harrison
  • Matron
  • Billy Flynn
  • Mary Sunshine
  • Go-to-Hell Kitty
  • Harry
  • Aaron
  • The Judge
  • Court Clerk

Production History

Date Venue Company
Jan 29, 2003 Ambassador Theatre
Feb 11, 1997 Shubert Theatre
Nov 14, 1996 Richard Rodgers Theatre
Nov 7, 1996 Signature Theatre Signature Theatre Company
Jun 3, 1975 46th Street Theatre
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