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Editor's Note: For a second look at the show after major cast changes
If these reviews were rated on a 1 to 10 scale, Chicago
would be a 10+. And if there were a Tony for reawakening audiences to the true mission of a
good musical--tunes integrated into an original and durable book, staged to showcase top talent--
this dynamite new-old show should win hands down. The recent City Center "Encores" concert
production was not a fluke. This larger but still intimate extravaganza seems slated for a long
second life at its original home, the Richard Rodgers theatre.
Set as it is in a vaudeville milieu, the story of two 1920's "jazz babies" Roxie Hart and Velma
opens with a master of ceremonies announcing what it's all about: "murder, greed, corruption,
violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery." Of course what it's also about is sensational
dancing, singing, acting...and, fun! No razzle-dazzle mechanical props, just the razzle-dazzle of a
company of gifted performers delivering two hours and twenty minutes of show-stopping
numbers that includes Billy and Company's witty "Razzle Dazzle."
The satire that pervades Fred Ebb's terrific lyrics is as crisp as the audience's enthusiastic and
constant handclaps. The all too timely skewering of celebrity worship and justice is caught to
perfection in John Lee Beatty 's sophisticated minimalist set. Its key "props" are ladders at
either side of the stage as visible metaphors for the ups and downs in the fortunes of Roxie and
Velma. There are also two giant gold frames, one slanted to create a jury box for the band and
one encircling the
stage and its cast of frauds and finaglers, villains and victims. The bells and whistles and
handstands are all there, but they come from the exuberance of the performers. And what a group
of troupers they are!
As directed by Walter Bobbie and smartly costumed in all-black by William Ivey Long, everybody
shines— from the leads to the secondary players to the company. They blaze their own trail in
the footsteps of the able and impressive original cast which included Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera
and Jerry Ohrbach. Ann Reinking, the star and choreographer, (and the original ingenue), gives ample proof that older often
is better. She adds bravura comedic brilliance to her established
credentials as a choreographer
and dancer. Her Roxie is greedy, ridiculous as a comic strip and
vulnerable, (as when she sings "I'm older than I ever intended to be"). Bebe Neuwirth's
tough-talking, high stepping Velma is
the perfect second wannabe vaudevillian-killer who is usurped by Roxie in the fickle public
Naughton's Billy Flynn is properly slick and manipulative and his singing voice is as good as his
In the minor parts that make major contributions, there's Joel Grey with his nforgettable
"Mister Cellophane." Not to be overlooked are Marcia Lewis as the greedily accommodating
prison matron and that wanderer off the operatic stage, D. Sabella, as sob sister reporter Mary
Above all Chicago exemplifies the collaborative spirit that has imbued our most
innovative musicals. John Kander and Fred Ebb hold a well-deserved place in the top canon
of musical collaborators. Ann Reinking's choreography keeps Bob Fosse alive as her partner and
mentor. And of course there's the superb interplay between stars and co-stars, stars and secondary
players and company. The "We Both Reached for the Gun" number in which Billy the cynical
legal eagle plays Edgar Bergen to fame-smitten Roxi as his ventriloquist's dummy is a brilliant
case in point. The delightful "Class" duet between Velma and Matron is another.
Critics often have at least a quibble or two about missed beats and other deficits of a production.
But there are no quibbles. There isn't a single missed beat. Instead,
one comes away from Chicago humming and heartened that the American musical
stage is alive and well.
Unless we miss our guess, New York will be a Chicago town for a long time.
And video stores better prepare for an onslaught of requests for Bob Fosse's now classic
All That Jazz. The out-of-circulation Ginger Rogers non-musical movie
Roxie Hart may even make it back to some form of golden oldie
Book by Fredd Ebb & Bob Fosse
Cast: Velma Kelly--Bebe Newuwirth; Amos Hart--Joel Grey, Billy Flynn---James Naughton, Hunyak--Tina Paul, Martin----Bruce Anthony Davis, Roxie Hart--Ann Reinking,
Mrs. Morton---Marcia Lewis, Mary Sunshine--D. Sabella, Fred Casely--Michael Beresse,
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Opened at Richard Rodgers, moved to
Shubert 225 W. 45 St. (212) 239-6200
Opening date 11/16/96
2. All That Jazz
3. Funny Honey
4. Cell Block Tango
When You're Good to Mama
6. All I Care About
7. Little Bit of Good
We Both Reached for the Gun
10. I Can't Do It Alone
Can't Do It Alone (Reprise)
12. My Own Best Friend
Know a Girl
15. Me and My Baby
16. Mr. Cellophane
17. When Velma Takes
18. Razzle Dazzle
21. Hot Honey
May 19, 1997 Editorial Note:
As the end of the 1996-97 season approaches
this musical revival and everyone connected
with it is the win-win-win story of the season.
The show garnered ecstatic reviews, enviable box
office sales and enough awards to warrant a special
Chicago trophy room, (including CurtainUp's Mega Byte Award for Musical
appeal) While the cast may change, the show is certain to be around next year, not to
mention taking its razzle-dazzle to other venues throughout the world. We are therefore adding
this background information box for archival purposes--and will add news items periodically to
keep it up-to-date.
The Journey from 1926. . .
1926 -- Chicago
opened on December 30 at the
Music Box Theatre in New York City. It was a satirical tale about a murderess named Roxie
Hart whose money-grubbing lawyer so manipulated the press that she was freed to become a
vaudeville star. Produced by Sam H. Harris and directed by George Abbott the play ran for 182
performances. It was based on its author Maurine Dallas Watkins's experience as a newspaper
reporter assigned to cover a series of Chicago trials of women murderers.
The cast featured Francine Larrimore as Roxie Hart, Juliette Crosby as Velma and Isabelle
Winlock as Mrs. Morton (no "Mama" in this version.
1928--Watkins' play was made into a movie, retaining its title, Chicago
1942--another film based on the play, this time named Roxie Hart, starred Ginger Rogers
as Roxie and the debonair Adolphe Menjou as her greedy lawyer.
195?-- Choreographer Bob Fosse set into motion a long process for obtaining the right to turn
Ms. Watkins play into a muscial.
1975-- The rights issue settled at last, Fosse and the songwriting team of (John) Kander and
(Fred) Ebb set to work on the musical adaptation of the Watkins'play. They jettisoned much of
the newspaper background in favor of the story's show-business elements and expanded the role
of Roxie's rival murderess Velma Kelly into a major part. The show opened on Broadway at the
46th Street Theatre. The producers were Robert Fryer and James Cresson, in association with
Martin Richards, Joseph Harris, and Ira Bernstein. It was directed and choreographed by Bob
Fosse and played for 898, through August 27, 1977. But that wasn't the end. In 1977, the show
began touring in the U.S., and production companies were mounted in Germany and Great
Britain. There was also a 1981 Australian production that played for several seasons.
June 1, 1997. The show made a grand sweep of the Tony Awards, with a total of 6 awards: BEST REVIVAL/MUSICAL; ACTOR/MUSICAL, James Naughtonl ACTRESS/MUSICAL, Bebe Neuwirth; DIRECTOR/MUSICAL,Walter Bobbie; LIGHTING DESIGN, Ken Billington;
CHOREOGRAPHY, Ann Reinking. And that's just for the Tonys. Mr. Cellophane himself, Joel Grey, was named Best Featured Actor by the Drama Desk. For more Chicago awards check out our Awards List Feature.
The cast list for 1975
Velma Kelly/Chita Rivera, Amos Hart/Barney Martin, Billy Flynn/Jerry Orbach, Hunyak/Graciela Daniele, Martin/Michael Vita, Roxie Hart/Gwen Verdon,Mrs. Morton/Mary McCarty,
Mary Sunshine/O'Haughey, Fred Casely/Christopher Chadman, Mona/Pamela Sousa
As with any show, there are always some cast changes as a show settles in for a long run.
During the Broadway run, Liza Minelli temporarily stepped in when Gwen Verdon had to leave the
show for health reason. --the replacement was one of the most poorly kept secrets on Broadway.
Later, when Verdon and Rivera left the show, Ann Reinking and Lenora Nemetz took their parts.
Reinking in turn became the first member to announce her departure from the current production