Reasons to see ‘Chicago’ on Broadway

After more than 25 years, Kander and Ebb's Chicago is still the name on everybody's lips — and the second-longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Joe Dziemianowicz
Joe Dziemianowicz

The razzle dazzle just never gets old. The strikingly streamlined 1996 musical revival of Chicago, which follows two Windy City vaudevillians who parlay homicide into fame, has played for more than 25 years and counting. Besides winning six Tony Awards and sparking an Oscar-winning film adaptation, this tangy, tuneful, and oh-so topical tale has shimmied its way into theatre record books.

Chicago is the longest-running American musical and the second longest-running show in Broadway history. The show originally ran on Broadway in 1975 and was visionary about the public’s fascination with celebrities — including celebrity criminals. Bottom line: Chicago, like its merry murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, slays.

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Chicago runs lean and mean and still boasts style and substance.

Songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the book with choreographer Bob Fosse, were in their gritty element with Chicago. Adapted from Maurine Dallas Watkins’s 1926 play based on real-life sensational murder trials, the show unfolds vaudeville-style.

Each scene becomes a literal song-and-dance routine for Velma and Roxie. So it goes, too, for their shady lawyer, Billy Flynn, who slyly uses the media to get them off; Roxie’s hapless, near-non-existent husband, Amos; and an underhanded prison matron, among others.

Director Walter Bobbie’s revival staging went like a bullet from a brief City Center Encores! presentation to Broadway, and the less-is-more take still works like a charm. The orchestra’s center stage and the black costumes reek chic, without an extraneous sequin or touch of lace. The tight focus is all the better to entertain you.

Chicago is shot through with great songs and dancing.

Kander and Ebb’s chronically catchy Chicago songs have plenty to say about corruption, violence, exploitation, justice, and, don’t forget, murder. The seductive “All That Jazz” quickly sets the Jazz Era scene. “Roxie” is a bouncy ode to infamy and being the name on everybody’s lips. “Cell Block Tango” sparks cheers for a squad of cold-blooded killers, while “Razzle Dazzle” and “We Both Reached for the Gun” celebrate selling fiction as truth, a legal ploy as relevant as today’s news.

Sinewy and sexy Fosse-style dance moves – think hip rolls, shoulder shrugs, jazz hands, and cartwheels, recreated by the late Ann Reinking — thread throughout the show’s two acts. In a story packed with failed, fatal marriages, the dynamite score and choreography share an ideal marriage.

Chicago's vivid characters stand up to replacements.

To keep the Chicago revival running for over 10,000 performances, there must be cast changes – and plenty of them. Bebe Neuwirth (Velma), Reinking (Roxie), James Naughton (Billy), and Joel Grey (Amos) left imprints back in ’96, but their characters are so well-made, vivid, and juicy, they’re basically built to accommodate fresh interpretations.

I’ve seen Roxie Hart played by Melanie Griffith, Christie Brinkley, and Charlotte d’Amboise, a Broadway veteran who always delivers – and repeatedly returns to the show to do just that. Dozens more actors, including major celebrity guests, have played Roxie, Velma, Billy, and more since 1996. When the characters are this well-made, there’s space for whoever’s playing the part to add their own wow factor.

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Chicago is a rouge-kneed Energizer Bunny of a musical. When a show’s this enduringly taut and timely, you’re the one who wants to do a cartwheel after seeing it. It’s no wonder why Chicago is still the name on everybody’s lips — and their list of must-sees.

Get Chicago tickets now.

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Photo credit: Chicago on Broadway. (Photo courtesy of production)

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