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Chicago

‘Chicago’ theatrical records: How the trailblazing musical set a new Broadway standard

The musical celebrates its 25th anniversary on Broadway in 2021.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly may sing that "nothing stays — in 50 years or so, it's gonna change, you know," but 25 years into the musical's Broadway revival, Chicago has stayed around pretty darn long and shows no signs of stopping. In fact, Chicago and some of the show's cast members hold records for their longevity. 

There's a Guinness World Record-holding actor who earned her prize as part of Chicago — not to mention multiple other actors who've simply stayed on for years and years. And with long revival runs both on Broadway and in the West End, Chicago has proven the timeless, universal appeal of the ol' razzle dazzle. Read on to learn about all the records Chicago has set on Broadway and beyond.

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Longest-running Broadway revival

The original Broadway production of Chicago opened in 1975 and ran for 936 performances, which is still unusually long for a show. However, the 1996 revival has surpassed that tenfold. As of October 2021, the Chicago revival has played more than 9,700 performances at the Ambassador Theatre. The musical holds the record by a long shot: the second-longest revival in Broadway history is that of Oh! Calcutta! beginning in 1976, which played 5,959 performances.

Longest-running show to premiere on Broadway

Only one show has continually run on Broadway longer than the current Chicago revival: The Phantom of the Operawhich opened in 1988 and has played 13,370 performances as of September 2021. However, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical had its world premiere in London's West End, whereas Chicago began in New York.

Longest-running American musical on Broadway

"American musical" here refers to a show written by an American creative team. Chicago holds this record for the same reason as the above: The only longer-running musical, Phantom, was penned by the Brits Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart. Conversely, Chicago was written by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Bob Fosse, all of whom were born in the United States.

Longest-running American musical on the West End

Not only is the current Chicago production the longest-running American musical in its own country, but the show also captured the same longevity in England. Like the Broadway counterpart, the original West End production had a (comparatively) modest run at only 600 performances beginning in 1979. The 1997 revival, however, stuck around for nearly 15 years, finally closing in 2012 at 6,187 performances. However, that Chicago revival still holds the record for longest-running American musical on the West End; the only longer-running shows there having been written by Brits. (That is, unless you count The Lion King, which has a half-British, half-American creative team.) 

Fastest recovery of initial production costs

Only about a third of Broadway shows recoup their production costs and end up making a profit. Chicago cost $2.5 million to produce, but the show's quick success and stripped-back aesthetic led the musical to earn back those initial costs faster than any other musical in history. The Broadway show has now made over $600 million.

Longest career as the same character in a Broadway show: Donna Marie Asbury

Donna Marie Asbury began performing the role of June — the merry murderess who says "he ran into my knife 10 times" in "Cell Block Tango" — on March 25, 1999. She played that same role, along with understudying Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, for her entire tenure with Chicago. When she departed the production on June 3, 2019, she had played the role for 20 years and 71 days. A year later to the day, Guinness World Records informed her that she was a record holder for cell block tangoing that long.

Most performances by a leading actress in Chicago: Roz Ryan

Chicago has set many records in the theatre world as a whole, but the musical's Broadway production boasts a few impressive internal records, too. The show is notorious for including performers that stay on for years. One of them is Roz Ryan, who made her debut in Chicago in January 1999 as Matron "Mama" Morton. She played the role for at least a few months every year between then and 2014, then in 2016 and on the national tour in 2019.

In the middle of her run, in October 2013, she clocked her 224th total week as Mama, setting a new record for the most performances by a leading actress in that show. The previous record was held jointly by Marcia Lewis (also as Mama Morton) and Charlotte d'Amboise (as Roxie Hart), each with 223 weeks under their garters — also an unusually extensive time to be with one production. Statistics aren't readily available, but it's likely that Chicago has showcased some of Broadway's longest-tenured actors.

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Photo credit: The cast of Chicago at the show's reopening night on September 14, 2021. (Photo by Daniel Rader)

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