Most people hear the word 'Chicago' and instantly think about the world-famous musical, first introduced in 1975.
However, did you know that there was also a play with the same name written and debuted at the Sam Harris Theatre in Broadway, New York City, in the late 1920s?
The charm of this story lies in truth: it remains relevant even in the 21st century because it is based on actual events, the likes of which take place even today.
And, of course, the way it is told, with mesmerizing costumes, make-up, lyrics, and acting, is what has made this musical so popular.
And although Wicked and Hamilton seem to be raking in the patrons at the TKTS queue, Chicago is truly one of the biggest reasons behind the contemporary relevance of Broadway.
Let's explore what this famous musical is all about as we explore some fun facts relating to it:
Synopsis Of Chicago The Musical
Those who love murder mysteries would surely love Chicago: The Musical. Here is a summary of the story:
Set in jazzy Chicago in the late roaring '20s, two rival murderesses get locked up together in jail: Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
Velma is serving time at Cook County jail because she killed her sister and husband when she found them in bed together.
Meanwhile, Roxie Hart was arrested for shooting and murdering her extra-marital lover because she was cheating on her husband with him.
Velma then asked matron 'Mama Morton' and famous lawyer from Chicago Billy Flynn for help, because of which she becomes a famous murderess.
However, Roxie has plans of her own, and those unfold with different performance pieces that are dramatic and entertaining.
Unlike the Phantom of the Opera, Chicago takes a whimsical angle to a perceivably sinister script.
Interesting Facts About Chicago The Musical
Regardless of its fame, there are several quirky and interesting facts about the musical that people do not know about.
Chicago is also commonly classified as a cult show. It is known to be incredibly sexy: the dancers are scantily dressed in black, the scenery is minimal, and the choreography is also known to be 'steamy.'
Furthermore, the 1996 revival is considered a more stripped-down version of the 1975 original Chicago Broadway NYC show.
Let's look at some of the surprising and revealing facts behind one of the most famous Broadway shows of all time.
Based On A Real-Life Story
The story of Chicago: the music was based on an actual murder in the windy city back in 1924. Maurine Dallas Watkins was a reported who covered the murder trials of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan (who inspired Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart).
She also based other vital characters like Billy Flynn, the lawyer, on what unfolded during the infamous courtroom proceedings in Chicago.
How The 1975 Production Of Chicago Came About
Building on the fame garnered by the original Chicago play, Gwen Verdon wanted to play Roxie Hart in a musical adaptation of Chicago.
She convinced Bob Fosse to develop the musical, for which he ultimately became the choreographer. He can also be attributed to writing the book for Chicago with famed lyricist Fred Ebb.
Perhaps, most notably, John Kander was responsible for composing the jazzy numbers behind each scene.
As was planned, Gwen Verdon played Roxie's role with Chita Rivera playing Velma Kelly. The show premiered in 1975 in New York, Broadway, and was an absolute hit as it ran over 900 times.
How The 1996 Revival Of Chicago Came About
Walter Bobbie, who worked as an artistic director, wanted to produce a remake of Chicago to honor Bob Fosse.
He hired his leads, Ann Reinking, who played Roxie Hart, Bebe Neuwirth, who played Velma Kelly, Joel Grey, who played Amos Hart (Roxie Hart's husband), and James Naughton, who played Billy.
Quite surprisingly, he did so without holding any auditions!
By the end of 1996, the show moved to New York, Broadway, and Walter Bobbie won a Tony Award for Best Director the next year.
And quite notably, like Mamma Mia!, Chicago was also soon adapted into a Hollywood production, one that has been nominated for an Academy Award for best picture!
The revival production of Chicago was adapted in 12 languages and played in 35 countries around the world. The languages included:
After playing Velma Kelly on Broadway for ten years, Bebe Neuwirth (a Tony winner) switched to playing Roxie Hart.
But the most incredible feat has to be that during the London production of Chicago, Roxie and Velma were both played by Ruthie Henshall!
The significance of this lies in the fact that singing live during a musical is tough to do, and even more so when you're playing two of the more prominent characters – something the cast of Jersey Boys is all too familiar with!
Learning From The Master
Ann Reinking won a Tony award in 1997 for choreography that critics said was honoring Bob Fosse's style. She understood his style so well because she was cast as Roxie in 1977 by Bob Fosse, working closely with him.
Over the past 20 years, there have been several celebrity castings in the show that you would never have imagined. Some of those included:
- Paige Davis
- Christie Brinkley
- Wayne Brady
- Eddie George
- Billy Ray Cyrus
- Tay Diggs
- Robin Givens
- Sandy Duncan
- Melora Hardin
- Michael C. Hall,
- Jasmine Guy
- Harry Hamlin
- Melanie Griffith
- Chandra Wilson
- Jennifer Nettles
- Ashlee Simpson
- Rumer Willis
- Aida Turturro
- Brooke Shields
- Jennifer Holliday
- Kevin Richardson
- Huey Lewis
- Wendy Williams
As a tradition, Velma and Roxie toss eight roses out to their audience after each performance. Till the 13th of November, 2012, it was calculated that 53,120 roses had been tossed to crowds.
The tradition and culture around the production have enabled it to foster a cult following, making it one of the best Broadway shows in NYC.
Longest Running Show
Chicago is the longest-running revival show on Broadway ever and is the second longest-running show ever, right behind The Phantom Of The Opera.
However, Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, and The Lion King can catch up to those records.
Dancing With Stars In Chicago
Several alums from the show' Dancing With the Stars' have appeared in the musical Chicago, including George Hamilton, John O'Hurley, Jerry Springer, and Samantha Harris.
The inclusion was a no-brainer because the prerequisite skills required to be in either show are roughly similar.
Chicago has been performed over 30,000 times globally and has been seen by over 31 million people worldwide.
The show has run in 50 states within America, including the District of Columbia that falls within the US. Additionally, it has premiered in approximately 485 cities in 35 countries worldwide.
An Award-Winning Musical
Not only has Chicago the musical won six Tony Awards, but it has also won a Grammy. Furthermore, Chicago has also either been awarded or recognized by:
- Drama Desk
- Drama League
- Outer Critics'
- Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
- A Ovation
- Helen Hayes
- A Drama Critics Circle
- Joseph Jefferson
- Black Theatre Alliance
- E. W.
Its international productions have also been awarded several accolades, such as:
- Two Helpman awards
- Two Premio Qualidade Brasil awards
- Three Heraldo awards
- Four Guldmasken awards
- Three Asociacion Mexicana de Criticos de Teatro awards
Alongside shows like The Book of Mormon, Chicago is one of the best received and recognized performances on Broadway.
Has Made Billions
The Chicago musical has performed over 8,400 times on New York Broadway. With a brief look at how much the musical has earned over the years, you can tell why it is one of the top Broadway shows ever.
It has grossed over $615 million since the revival production in 1996, and more than $1.5 billion has been grossed worldwide.
Chicago: One of the Best Broadway Shows In New York
Chicago has been likened to The Book Of Mormon due to its wild and satirical nature. The way it has been directed is phenomenal, as one can tell by the many prestigious awards the show has won.
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