Chicago

Credits and Major Productions

Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb.

The world premiere production opened on Broadway on 1 June 1975 and was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, running for 898 performances. The production closed on 27 August 1977 after 936 performances. Subsequent productions on Broadway and in the West End: London premiere (1979, 600 performances), Broadway revival (1996, still running after more than 8 707 performances) and London revival (1997, 6 187 performances). A film version was released in 2002. A documentary about the creation of the London revival, The Making of the London Chicago, was aired by the BBC and Bravo in 1997.

Background and Context

Gwen Verson and Chita Rivera in the original 1975 production of CHICAGO

Gwen Verson and Chita Rivera in the original 1975 production of CHICAGO

SUBJECT MATTER: The Celebrity Criminals of the 1920s.

BEFORE: (1928) In Berlin, Bretolt Brecht and Kurt Weill write The Threepenny Opera, blending jazz, oompah, cabaret and classical music to tell the tale of Macheath and his exploits, which include robberies, murders, rapes and arson. (1940) Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and John O’Hara write Pal Joey, a musical set in the nightclub scene of Chicago, in all of its seedy glory. (1966) John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff explore using the act of performance as a metaphor through which to explore social issues in Cabaret, which like Chicago, would also return in a popular revival in the 1990s.

AFTER: (1979) Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler delve even deeper into the relationship between justice, crime and murder in Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which uses – at times, an especially in the number “A Little Priest” – some of the musical vocabulary of music hall. (2011) Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Ivan Menchell put real-life murderers Bonnie & Clyde on stage, putting their folk hero criminal status under the spotlight. (2013) Robert L. Freedman and Lorenzo Thion’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, based on Roy Horniman’s Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, sees whether young Monty Navarro can murder his way out into an earldom, once again asking whether crime can pay.

Character Descriptions and Vocal Ranges

Character Range Description
Velma Kelly Alto (E3-D5) A vaudville performer who is accused of murdering her sister and husband. Hardened by fame, she cares for no one but herself and her attempt to get away with murder. Aged 25 – 40.
Roxie Hart Mezzo-Soprano (F3-B4) Reads and keeps up with murder trials in Chicago, and follows suit by murdering her lover, Fred Casely. She stops at nothing to render a media storm with one goal: to get away with it. Aged 20 – 30.
Amos Hart Baritone (C3-F#4) Roxie’s faithful husband. Lies for her and tries to take the blame until he realizes that he has been two-timed by Roxie. Still in love with her, or misguided, he believes anything she says in her pursuit to get out of jail. Aged 30 – 50.
Liz Alto (A3-C#5) Prisoner at Cook County Jail. She is imprisoned after shooting two warning shots into her husband’s head. Aged: 18-45.
Annie Alto (A3-C#5) Prisoner at the Cook County Jail. Murder’s her lover after finding out he already has six wives. “One of those Mormons, ya’ know.” Aged: 18-45.
June Alto (A3-C#5) Prisoner at Cook County Jail. After her husband accuses her of screwing the milk man, he mysteriously runs into her knife ten times. Aged: 18-45.
Hunyak Non-singing Hungarian Prisoner at Cook County Jail. The only English she speaks is the phase, “Not Guilty.” Which follows her to her grave. Aged: 25-45.
Mona Alto (A3-C#5) Prisoner at Cook County Jail. Murders her lover after he has a round of affairs with other woman, and an occasional man. I guess you could say it was “artistic differences.” Aged: 18-45.
Matron “Mama” Morton Alto (F#3-B4) Leader of the prisoners of Cook County Jail. The total essence of corruption. Accepts bribes for favors from laundry service to making calls to lawyers. “When you’re good to Moma, Moma’s good to you.” Aged: 30-50.
Billy Flynn Baritone (B2-G4) Established lawyer who hasn’t lost a woman’s case yet. Master of media manipulation who will get a girl off the hook as long as she can fork up the hefty $5,000 fee. Aged: 35-50.
Mary Sunshine Soprano (B3-B5) Sob sister reporter from the Evening Star. Believes there is a little bit of good in everyone and will believe anything she is fed that matches her beliefs. Aged: 55-54.
Go-to-Hell Kitty Alto (A3-C#5) Steals the spotlight when she Murders her husband along with three other woman. Her crimes are labeled “Lake Shore Drive Massacre.” Aged: 21-40.
Fred Casely Ensemble Roxie’s short lived lover. Murdered for trying to leave Roxie. Aged 30 – 50.
Sergeant Fogarty Ensemble Assigned to Roxie’s case. After asking the right questions, he manages to get Roxie to confess. Aged 35 – 55.
Martin Harrison Ensemble Doubles as the Master of Ceremonies at times. Aged: 35-55.
Harry Ensemble Murdered by Go-To-Hell Kitty for sleeping around with three women behind her back.
Aaron Ensemble Court appointed lawyer for Hunyak. He tries to get her to confess to speed along the trial.
Judge Ensemble Judge overseeing Roxie’s Trial. Aged: 40-65.
Court Clerk Ensemble Swears people in with their hand on the bible. “Blah, Blah, Truth, Truth. Selp-you God.”

The show includes an ensemble, many of whom play the ensemble roles listed above.

Synopsis and Musical Numbers

Drummond Marais as Billy Flynn with the company of the 2005 South African production of CHICAGO

Drummond Marais as Billy Flynn with the company of the 2005 South African production of CHICAGO

As the OVERTURE ends, the audience is introduced to Velma Kelly, a vaudevillian star who shot the other half of her sister act when she caught her husband with her sister. Velma invites us to sample ALL THAT JAZZ while showing us the story of chorus girl Roxie Hart’s cold-blooded murder of nightclub regular Fred Casely. Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and he cheerfully takes the rap.

Roxie expresses her appreciation to her FUNNY HONEY until the police reveal the burglar’s identity to Amos. When he realises that Roxie was having an affair with Fred, Amos decides to let her fend for herself. Roxie’s first taste of the criminal justice system is the women’s block in Cook County Jail, which is inhabited by Velma and several other merry murderesses (CELL BLOCK TANGO). The women’s jail is presided over by Matron “Mama” Morton whose system of mutual aid perfectly suits her clientele (WHEN YOU’RE GOOD TO MAMA). She has helped Velma become the media’s top murderer-of-the-week and is acting as booking agent for Velma’s big return to vaudeville after her acquittal.

Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but also her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Eagerly awaited by his clientele, Billy arrives singing his anthem: “ALL I CARE ABOUT IS LOVE”. Billy takes Roxie’s case and re-arranges her story for consumption by Mary Sunshine, a sympathetic tabloid columnist 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 while Roxie mouths the words (WE BOTH REACHED FOR THE GUN).

Samantha Peo as Roxie in the 2005 South African production of CHICAGO

Samantha Peo as Roxie in the 2005 South African production of CHICAGO

Roxie becomes the toast of Chicago and Velma’s headlines, trial date and career are left in the dust (ROXIE). 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 yet another sordid crime of passion. Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there is no one that 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.

Back after the ENTR’ACTE, Velma cannot believe Roxie’s continuous 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. Nobody notices him (MISTER CELLOPHANE). Velma desperately tries to show Billy all the tricks she has planned for her trial (WHEN VELMA TAKES THE STAND). Billy’s forte may be showmanship (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. As the verdict is given, an even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away and Roxie’s fleeting celebrity is over. Left in the dust, she pulls herself up and extols the joys of life NOWADAYS. She teams up with Velma in that sister act and they dance their little hearts out (HOT HONEY RAG), after which they are joined by the entire company for the grand FINALE.

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