"Chicago" on Broadway

Show-Score | By Anne Carr | Apr 7, 2017

Learn everything you need to know about Chicago at Show-Score, from cast to plot, to what made the show unique and successful.

"Chicago" features the Cell Block Tango "Chicago" features the Cell Block Tango | By Chicago the Musical

"Chicago" on Broadway or off has something for everyone - a little jazz, a little dancing, a little murder. Written in 1975, the musical features music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, with a book by Ebb and famed dancer Bob Fosse, who also provided the iconic and stylistic choreography for the show. 

"Chicago" the musical is based on a 1926 play by crime reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote about real crimes and criminals in a satirical way in an effort to highlight the corruption of the criminal justice system, and society’s love of creating criminal “celebrities.” 

Set in Chicago (of course), the Broadway musical revolves around vaudevillian singer and dancer Velma Kelly, who murders her husband and sister when she discovers them having an affair, and Roxie Hart, who also murders her lover after a quarrel. Both are sent to the notorious Cook County Jail, and as their story spreads, Roxie becomes a celebrity, pushing Velma out of the limelight. The two struggle to retain their status as front-page news as they go through their trials; after numerous lies and publicity stunts, they are acquitted, returning to the theater world as a double act. 

"Chicago" the musical features a number of well-known songs, including the classic opening “All That Jazz”, the sexy “Cell Block Tango” featuring all of the murderesses in the Cook County Jail, and the satirical and clever “We Both Reached For The Gun,” where Roxie and her lawyer Billy Flynn feed the press a false story about the events surrounding her murder. 

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"Chicago" opened on Broadway in 1975 at the 46th Street theater, where it ran until 1977, for a total of 936 performances. It made its debut on London’s West End in 1979, where it ran for 600 performances. It came back to Broadway in 1996, and is currently the second-longest show in Broadway history, playing for over 8,400 performances.

"Chicago" is performed in a vaudevillian style, and each character is based on a specific performer from the early 1900’s. Roxie is modeled after singer and actress Helen Morgan, and Velma is based on actress Texas Guinan. 

The roles of Velma and Kelly are iconic, dream roles for many young aspiring musical theater students. In the original 1975 Broadway production, the role of Roxie Hart was played by Gwen Verdon, and Velma was played by Chita Rivera. (Fun fact: during the run, Gwen Verdon inhaled a feather during the shows closing number and had to have surgery on the nodes in her throat. Famed performer Liza Minnelli stepped in and played Roxie for a month until Verdon returned, boosting the show’s popularity!)

The original Broadway production was nominated for eleven Tony awards, and holds one Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lighting Design. Awards aside, it's hard to walk through Time Square without seeing a piece of "Chicago" the musical somewhere.

In the 1996 Broadway Revival, Roxie was played by Ann Reinking, and Velma was played by Bebe Neuwirth. Ann Reinking also provided choreography in the style of Bob Fosse for the Broadway revival, which is still used in the show today! The revival won six Tony Awards, one Grammy Award, and six Drama Desk Awards. 

The current popularity of the show is in part due to the 2002 movie, which featured Hollywood big-names like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere. The film won an Academy Award for Best Picture. "Chicago" the musical has toured both nationally and internationally, and it continues to be one of the most beloved Broadway musicals ever!