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Chicago

Everything you need to know about the musical 'Chicago' on Broadway

Learn about the musical's record-breaking Broadway revival, its many celebrity casts, how to get tickets, and all that jazz.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

Enter a world of jazz, crime, and razzle dazzle at Chicago on Broadway. Set in the 1920s and based on real events, this satirical show follows wannabe jazz age stars who get their fame not just for their singing or dancing talent, but for committing murders that make sensationalized headlines all across the city of Chicago.

But even though their lawyer claims all you need is razzle dazzle — that "long as you keep them way off balance, how can they spot you've got no talents?" — Chicago's success isn't built on artifice; the musical showcases genuine talent in spades. Stars like Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, and Ann Reinking helped the show take off in its early days, and numerous stage and screen stars have since shown off their talents in the lead characters' shoes.

Chicago was met with mixed reviews upon its 1975 premiere, but in the nearly 50 years since, the musical, its songs, and its choreography have all become an iconic part of Broadway history. The current production celebrated 25 years on Broadway in 2021 and has set and broken numerous records in that time. Read on to learn all about the history, casts, and fun facts of Chicago, and all the basic information you need to know before heading to the Ambassador Theatre to see the show on Broadway.

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What is Chicago about?

Chicago centers on Roxie Hart, a chorus girl who dreams of being a vaudeville star. She's cheating on her sweet but dim-witted husband named Amos — and when her lover tries to end their affair, she kills him in a fit of rage. Getting thrown in the Cook County Jail seems like a surefire end to Roxie's dreams of stardom, but her sentence ends up being her ticket to fame.

Her lawyer, the smooth-talking Billy Flynn, helps her concoct a defense that earns the press's sympathy and gets her face on the cover of every newspaper in Chicago. And while in jail, Roxie meets Velma Kelly, an established vaudeville star who murdered her husband and sister. The women begin as rivals, as Roxie seeks to steal Velma's lawyer (Billy) and her spotlight, but they come around to an unlikely alliance.

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When did Chicago premiere?

Chicago had its Broadway premiere in 1975 and ran for 936 performances in just over two years. In 1996, New York City Center mounted an Off-Broadway revival as part of its Encores! program, which transferred to Broadway. That production is the one still running on Broadway today, more than 25 years later.

  • 1975: Chicago premieres on Broadway.
  • 1979: Chicago premieres in London's West End.
  • 1996: The Chicago Broadway revival opens.
  • 1997: The West End revival opens.
  • 1997: Chicago launches its first North American tour.
  • 2002: The Chicago film adaptation is released.
  • 2021: Chicago revival production celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Who wrote Chicago?

Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb wrote the book, Ebb wrote the lyrics, and John Kander composed the music. The story was also adapted from a play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist who based Chicago on actual crimes she reported on at the beginning of her career.

Is there a Chicago movie?

Yes — Chicago was adapted into a 2002 movie musical starring Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly, Richard Gere as Billy Flynn, Queen Latifah as Matron "Mama" Morton, John C. Reilly as Amos Hart, and Christine Baranski as Mary Sunshine. The film won Best Picture at the 2003 Academy Awards (plus five other trophies), becoming the first movie musical to do so since Oliver! in 1968. 

What theatre in New York is Chicago playing at?

Chicago is at the Ambassador Theatre. The Ambassador Theatre is located at 219 West 49th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway. The theatre is a block away from the Winter Garden Theatre, Gershwin Theatre, and the Circle in the Square Theatre.

What is the running time of Chicago?

Chicago is 2 hours and 30 minutes long, including one intermission. This is a typical running time for a Broadway show, though Broadway musicals can be as short as an hour and a half and as long as three hours. Intermissions usually last 15 or 20 minutes.

What days is Chicago playing?

Funny Girl plays eight performances a week at the Ambassador Theatre, with performances generally scheduled every day except Wednesday. For the complete performance schedule and show times, please visit the Chicago page to learn more. 

Who is in the cast of Chicago?

The original Broadway cast of Chicago included Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart, Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn, Barney Martin as Amos Hart, Mary McCarty as Matron "Mama" Morton, and Michael O'Haughey as Mary Sunshine. The 1996 revival first starred Ann Reinking as Roxie Hart, Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, James Naughton as Billy Flynn, Joel Grey as Amos Hart, Marcia Lewis as Matron "Mama" Morton, and David Sabella-Mills as Mary Sunshine.

The current Broadway cast of Chicago remains ever-changing. When the musical reopened on Broadway in 2021 after the pandemic, the principal cast included Ana Villafañe as Roxie Hart, Bianca Marroquín as Velma Kelly, Paulo Szot as Billy Flynn, Lillias White as Matron "Mama" Morton, Raymond Bokhour as Amos Hart, and Ryan Lowe as Mary Sunshine.

What celebrities have performed in Chicago?

The celebrities who've performed in Chicago could make up their own article. The musical has become infamous for its ever-rotating roster of stars — from all corners of the stage and screen acting industries — playing limited runs as Roxie, Velma, Billy, and Mama Morton. Stage actors, movie stars, singers, reality TV stars, internet personalities, and comedians alike have stepped into Chicago on Broadway.

Some notable celebrities who have played Roxie Hart include Mel B, Christie Brinkley, Marilu Henner, Erika Jayne, Jennifer Nettles, Bebe Neuwirth, Petra Nielsen, Brandy Norwood, Chita Rivera, Brooke Shields, Ashlee Simpson, Michelle Williams, and Rumer Willis. Celebrities like Deidre Goodwin, Ruthie Henshall, Carly Hughes, Mýa, and Leigh Zimmerman have all appeared as Velma.

Dozens of male celebrities have played Billy Flynn, including Wayne Brady, Billy Ray Cyrus, Taye Diggs, Cuba Gooding Jr., Todrick Hall, George Hamilton, Huey Lewis, Norm Lewis, John O'Hurley, Adam Pascal, John Schneider, Jerry Springer, Patrick Swayze, Usher, Ben Vereen, and Tony Yazbeck.

Celebrities that have stepped in as Matron "Mama" Morton include Kandi Burruss, Jennifer Holliday, Patti LaBelle, NeNe Leakes, Bebe Neuwirth, Roz Ryan, Mary Testa, Sofía Vergara, Lillias White, Wendy Williams, and Chandra Wilson.

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Who are the characters in Chicago?

The characters in Chicago are satirical representations of people in the showbiz, legal, and even journalism industries, though they're not one-to-one parodies of any particular celebrities. Some of the characters' traits, however, are inspired by people in real-life court cases. Here are the major characters in Chicago:

  • Roxie Hart: A housewife who wants to be a vaudeville star. She goes to jail for murdering her lover when he tries to leave her.
  • Velma Kelly: A veteran vaudeville performer known for her "double act" with her sister. She is in jail for murdering her sister and her husband, and she and Roxie are initially rivals when Roxie arrives at the prison.
  • Billy Flynn: A smooth-talking lawyer who turns his clients into celebrities so the public sympathizes with them. He has never lost a case.
  • Matron "Mama" Morton: The warden at Cook County Jail, the prison where Roxie and Velma are held. She grants the inmates favors, like press coverage, in exchange for money and other bribes.
  • Amos Hart: Roxie's simple-minded yet kind husband. He often goes ignored, especially by his own wife.
  • Mary Sunshine: A reporter covering both Roxie's and Velma's murder trials.

What are the songs in Chicago?

Chicago features songs composed by John Kander and with lyrics by Fred Ebb. Most are infused with a jazzy, vaudevillian flair fitting of the musical's 1920s-jazz-age setting. Many of the Chicago songs have become iconic musical theatre classics, like "Cell Block Tango," "Razzle Dazzle," and "All That Jazz."

Act I

  • "Overture" - Orchestra
  • "All That Jazz" - Velma Kelly and Company
  • "Funny Honey" - Roxie Hart
  • "Cell Block Tango" - Velma and the Murderesses
  • "When You're Good to Mama" - Matron "Mama" Morton
  • "Tap Dance" - Roxie, Amos, and Boys
  • "All I Care About" - Billy Flynn and the Girls
  • "A Little Bit of Good" - Mary Sunshine
  • "We Both Reached for the Gun" - Billy, Roxie, Mary and the Reporters
  • "Roxie" - Roxie and the Boys
  • "I Can't Do It Alone" - Velma
  • "I Can't Do It Alone (Reprise)" - Velma
  • "Chicago After Midnight" - Orchestra
  • "My Own Best Friend" - Roxie and Velma
  • "Finale Act I: All That Jazz (Reprise)" - Velma

Act II

  • "Entr'acte" - Orchestra
  • "I Know a Girl" - Velma
  • "Me and My Baby" - Roxie and Company
  • "Mr. Cellophane" - Amos Hart
  • "When Velma Takes the Stand" - Velma and the Boys
  • "Razzle Dazzle" - Billy and Company
  • "Class" - Velma and Mama Morton
  • "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag" - Velma and Roxie
  • "Finale Act II: All That Jazz (Reprise)" - Company

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What did the reviews of Chicago say?

The 1975 premiere production received mixed reviews; as a satiric criticism of America's beloved celebrity culture where the fourth wall was constantly broken, some audiences and critics found it alienating as compared to more traditional, "feel-good" musicals. But by the time the revival came around in 1996, audiences were ready for it, because Chicago received near-universal praise. The New York Times review, for example, reads: "What this production makes clear is how much ''Chicago'' is about the joy of seducing an audience that goes to the theater, above all, to be seduced. Fosse, who had a fiercely conflicted relationship with his profession, may have regarded entertainers as applause-addicted grifters ... Yet he also reveled in the adrenaline rush that comes from singers and dancers doing what they do best, at their best. Every number in this ''Chicago'' (and most of them are show-stoppers) buzzes with an implicit, irresistibly arrogant declaration: ''Watch me. What I'm about to do is going to be terrific, and you're going to love every second of it.'"

A 20-year anniversary review of Chicago from New York Theatre Guide reads, "As Velma and Mama Morton were serenading us, asking whatever happened to class, I couldn't help but think that this production has it in abundance. Chicago proves that you don't need to bombard your audience with a number of lavish sets or elaborate costume changes to put together a winning musical. All you need is a live band on stage, intoxicating the auditorium with that jazz-infused score from the genius that is John Kander and Fred Ebb and sprinkle it with that Bob Fosse-style choreography, and before you know it, you've razzle dazzled 'em!"

What awards has Chicago won?

The premiere Broadway production of Chicago in 1975 got 10 Tony Award nominations but left the ceremony empty-handed, with most categories going to A Chorus Line. The only award Chicago won that year was a Drama Desk Award for lighting design. But the 1996 revival was entirely different — the show won six Tony Awards out of its eight nominations, did the same at the Drama Desk Awards, and also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. 

Fun facts about Chicago

Did you know that a Chicago actress is a Guinness World Record holder, and the show is famous for a signature style of choreography? Learn more about the musical with these fun facts.

  • Chicago has set multiple records on Broadway and beyond. The current production is the second-longest-running Broadway musical (behind The Phantom of the Opera), the longest-running Broadway musical written by an American creative team, and the longest-running revival. Also, in 2020, Chicago actress Donna Marie Asbury was named a Guinness World Record holder for "longest career as the same character in a Broadway show." She'd played June, one of the murderesses in "Cell Block Tango," for 20 years and 71 days when she left the show in 2019.
  • In 2021, Chicago reopened on Broadway after the pandemic with Latin American actors playing the three leading roles (Roxie, Velma, and Billy) for the first time in the show's history.
  • Bob Fosse devised the highly stylized choreography of Chicago, and the musical is now nearly synonymous with his name and what we now know as Fosse dance technique. He died before the 1996 revival, so Ann Reinking, who also starred in that production as Roxie, invented new choreography in his style. It's still used today.
  • Some celebrities who have performed in the Broadway production were also in the film. Taye Diggs, who has played Billy Flynn on Broadway, appears as the master of ceremonies in the movie. The singer Mýa, who played one of the "Cell Block Tango" murderesses in the film, had a stint as Velma Kelly on Broadway. And Chita Rivera, who originated the role of Velma on Broadway in 1975, made a cameo in the film as a prostitute.

How do I get tickets for Chicago on Broadway?

Chicago isn't called "Broadway's sure thing" for nothing. At 25 years and going strong, this production has proven its staying power and timeless appeal to countless audiences. The musical has a little dark comedy, a little thrilling intrigue, and a whole lot of classic showbiz glitz. Plus, with a revolving door of celebrities in the cast, you always have a chance to see your favorite star live.

Tickets to Chicago are available now. Get Chicago tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

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