"Chicago" the Musical premiered on Broadway in 1975 and was based on a 1926 play of the same name. "Chicago" is a satire based on a corruption of the justice system and the idea of a "celebrity criminal." It was turned into a movie in 2002 and is the second-longest running show on Broadway (behind "Phantom of the Opera"). I had the opportunity to play in the pit orchestra for the musical and fell in love with it. It's full of greed, corruption, adultery, and murder. As Billy Flynn would put it: "All those things we hold near and dear to our hearts." So here's why you need to see the musical (or movie) if you haven't already.
1. Razzle Dazzle Them
The show is over-the-top, dramatic, and a whole lot of fun. The whole thing is about putting on a show for the Jury at court, and making a scene to get publicity in the newspapers. The show is full of deception and trickery, no matter if you're a criminal or a lawyer.
2. The Characters and the Ego
The characters all have their own little quirks. It looks like it is so much fun to act in. The actor or actress has so much room for interpretation because of how crazy and over-the-top many of the characters are. Roxie, for example, spends a lot of the play trying to get publicity, and talking about her dreams of being in vaudeville. She's obsessed with being a celebrity, which makes everything else that happens to her seem trivial. Velma already had the spotlight before she met Roxie, so she spends much of the play dealing with her jealousy and trying to make sure Roxie doesn't take all her fame. Billy Flynn is a lawyer that convinces the press that "All he cares about is love," and Mama Morton takes care of the women on murderous row as long as they do favors for her. The crazy personalities of the characters make for an interesting power struggle.
3. Sparkles and Tassels and Bow Ties
It's the 1920s! Of course, the costumes are a lot of fun. All of the men in the play are dressed in suits and ties, with the occasional bow tie, white shoes, and fancy hats. The women's costumes range from modest dresses covered in bows, to small numbers with lots of tassels and sparkles, to skimpy jail attire covered in black and white stripes. The costume designer for any production of Chicago has all the fashion of the 1920s to dig into.
4. From Class to Murder
The show has an interesting dynamic between the classy jazz-nightclub vibe and the rampage of murderous women. The death toll by the end is quite high however the story still ends on a high note. The main characters all get their own songs to sing about themselves, their dreams, and their woes. Instead of a musical in which the characters seem to be going about their day while they sing, "Chicago" is like its own vaudeville performance; many of the characters are announced and presented as an act, combining the setting in the play with the stage.
5. Cell Block Tango
The musical is a satire in form. It's making fun of corruption in the criminal justice system by presenting greasy lawyers, lying in court, and using people to get what you want. It also plays with the concept of a "celebrity criminal." Roxie isn't well known until she gets put in jail and her lawyer turns her into a star overnight. All the while, she never actually had her own act in a jazz club. The reporters fall over her and any other woman who murdered somebody. Even the news is involved in the corruption of the criminal justice system.
6. All that Jazz
Finally, "Chicago" isn't just about the story. It wouldn't be what it is without the music and the dancing. I had the opportunity to play in the pit band, which was so much fun. The music is great. Jazz of the 1920s is captured in every song. And what would it be without the dancing? We had a choreographer for the show, and everyone had some dancing to do. There's a tap dance, a tango, and all that jazz to move to. The bottom line is: if you haven't seen the movie or the musical, take the first chance you get to watch it. You won't regret it.