Broadway’s oldest running musical and the second longest-running musical in Broadway history, Chicago is a 1975 American musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. It is set in the 1920s and based on a 1926 pay of the same name, which was written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins and based on the lives of actual criminals and the crimes on which she reported.
Chicago’s original Broadway run began in 1975 and took place at the 46th Street Theatre where it ran for 936 performances, until 1977. The show was choreographed by Bob Fosse and is considered to be exemplary of his jazz musical style.
In 1996, a revival of Chicago premiered on Broadway. The 1996 Broadway production holds the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. In 2002, it was adapted into a film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Vaudeville performer Velma Kelly welcomes the audience to tonight’s dramatic, jazz-filled show. Meanwhile, it’s Valentine's Day – February 14th, 1928 – and chorus girl Roxie Hart murders nightclub regular Fred Casely in her bedroom as he attempts to break off an affair with her. Roxie manages to persuade her husband, Amos, that the victim was an intruder and he takes the rap for her Roxie sings of how grateful she is for Amos’ readiness to do anything for her, but when the victim’s name is revealed, Amos realizes that the two were lovers and that Roxie lied to him. In retaliation, he lets the police book Roxie for her crime. Roxie is imprisoned in the women’s block of the Cook County Jail. There she meets a number of women who have been accused of murdering their lovers. Among the women is Velma Kelly, who caught her husband and sister having an affair and witnessed the immediate aftermath of their deaths, but maintains that it wasn’t she who killed them as she had blacked out from the shock of seeing them together. Matron “Mama” Morton oversees the cell block and her quid pro quo system of taking bribes from inmates keeps things ticking along nicely for everyone. With Mama’s help, Velma is a hot ticket with the media, becoming murder-of-the-week. Once she is acquitted, the plan is for Mama to become the agent to her renewed stage career and big vaudeville comeback.
Used to her status in the prison, Velma is unimpressed with the arrival of Roxie, who has garnered both the attention of her fellow inmates and her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Billy is beloved by his all-female clientele and agrees to take on Roxie’s case. Roxie has convinced Amos to pay for Billy’s help, although she is unaware that he does not have the capital. To raise funds for her case, Billy spins a new story to the media, helped by sympathetic reporter Mary Sunshine. In this fabricated version of the circumstances of the crime, Roxie and Fred both reached for the gun. Roxie parrots this version of events to the media as Billy’s puppet – mouthing his words like a ventriloquist and their dummy.
Roxie’s press conference was a roaring success, turning her into a celebrity and allowing her to make plans for a new career in vaudeville. As Roxie’s star is on the ascendant, Velma’s begins to wane. Determined to hold on to her fame, Velma suggests that Roxie join her in recreating the act she used to perform with her sister. Roxie rebuffs her but soon finds that her story has been replaced in the papers by another crime of passion. Both Roxie and Velma separately come to the realization that they only have themselves to depend on. Roxie has a canny plan to get back on the front page, realizing that a prison pregnancy would get the attention of the press.
Velma is envious and exasperated at Roxie’s ability to get ahead using whatever means necessary. Roxie revels in the deceit of her unborn baby and Amos largely goes unnoticed while he claims paternity with pride. Billy aims to manipulate Amos by refuting his claim in the hopes that he will divorce Roxie and become a villain in the public’s eyes, explaining that he cannot be the father as they had not had sex in four months. Velma desperately shows Billy all the chicanery she has in store for her trial. Meanwhile, Roxie has become dissatisfied that she is being treated as a criminal and not the celebrity she believes herself to be. This leads to an argument with Billy where she fires him and he warns her that her fame would be just as great were she to be executed. Roxie is then witness to the hanging of her Hungarian cellmate who becomes the first female prisoner in Chicago to be formally put to death.
Roxie’s trial date arrives and she is suddenly hugely unnerved. Billy reassures her that she will be alright if she uses her skills of showmanship. In a complete turnaround, Billy insists at the trial that Amos is the father of Roxie’s child. Roxie relays Billy’s false narrative to the jury and also uses all of Velma’s tricks, much to the chagrin of Velma and Mama. Billy succeeds in securing Roxie’s acquittal, but as they leave the courthouse and the verdict is announced an even more lurid scandal catches the attention of the press and Roxie’s fifteen minutes of fame are over. Billy then leaves, disclosing that he was only in it for the money. Amos tries to appeal to Roxie and get her to come home with him and leave the trial behind her. Roxie, however, only cares about her stardom coming to an end and confesses that she is not pregnant, driving Amos to finally leave her.
Flash forward and Roxie and Velma, both now acquitted, have formed a double-act. They sing and dance a vaudeville show that ends in a rousing finale.
"Chicago still glitters hypnotically! It remains the best adult entertainment in town and still bubbles with the joy of performing!" Ben Brantley – The New York Times
"Chicago is as crazy-fun as ever!" Jess Cagle – WCBS-TV
"The show seems to have discovered the fountain of youth. As entertaining as ever. Brash, buoyant and utterly irresistible!" Michael Kuchwara – The Associated Press
"Chicago is a triumph! It doesn't just give us the old razzle-dazzle; it glows." Richard Zoglin – Time Magazine
"As much tribute as revival, the spirit of Fosse's genius never leaves the stage, and Chicago, under Walter Bobbie's sharp direction, will dazzle newcomers to the trademark Fosse dance style and provide a thrilling reminder to those who've seen it before just how smart, sexy and exciting this brand of choreography was, or rather, is." Greg Evans – Variety