Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
adapted from the play Chicago, by Maurine Dallas Watkins

INFO:

Opened at the 46th Street Theatre    June 3, 1975    936 performances (BUT with revivals, over 6,700 performances on Broadway, making it the third longest run, with the longest revival.)
Original Director: Bob Fosse
Original Choreographer: Fosse
Original Producer: Robert Fryer and James Cresson
Original Leads: Roxie Hart: Gwen Verdon  Velma Kelly: Chita Rivera   Billy Flynn: Jerry Orbach   Matron: Mary McCarthy
Cast Size: Male: 2 Female: 3 Ensemble: 14 Total Cast Size: 19
Orchestra: 13
Published Script: Samuel French
Production Rights: Samuel French
Recordings: The original Broadway is strong. Numerous albums available, including the revival with Bebe Neuwirth and Ann Reinking, very good. The movie is fine, overall.
Film: Major success as a film! The film stars Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, and John C. Riley, and won the Best Picture Oscar, as well as five others.
Other shows by the authors: Cabaret, Flora The Red Menace, Zorba
Awards: The original production was nominated for 12 (!) Tonys…and lost all of them! (It lost generally to “A Chorus Line”, arguably another exceptional musical. It would have been a tough call.)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a high-energy, high-glitz, highly professional tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek Musical with a serious amount of dance and production values that must be met. The cast and orchestra are not huge, which helps. But the technical skills required by the leads are significant.

At first view an amoral, cynical show. It is cool, calculated entertainment, not for every audience. Thee is little warmth to be found in Chicago. It appeals to our sense of the outrageous, and invites us in a way to laugh at things we know are wrong, and so, reject them in the play and in ourselves. That is where its moral substance is to be found, and in its way, the show is accordingly Brechtian. You could use many of Brecht’s recommended approaches in his Short Organum For The Theater.

A show to be considered by colleges and universities with strong dance credentials, perhaps Dinner Theaters and Little Theaters, Regional, Stock, and professional companies. Broadway knows all about Chicago.

Be Warned:

It’s a tough show to get right. The mood must be whimsical and cynical at the same time. To get that right, execution must be specific, professional, in acting and dance in this case. If you can’t hit that level of execution, this isn’t a good choice.

Not for children to see, or be in. It’s a very adult Musical.

Also, rights are very likely not available. It runs forever when produced well professionally. Find out before getting too excited about it.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: A Master of Ceremonies welcomes the audience to a story filled with vile activity. Velma Kelly takes stage, the company joins us and invites us to indulge in “All That Jazz”. As they do, we see Roxie Hart, very dunk. The man she’s with, Fred, who is not her husband, asks if the man of the house is around. In her bedroom, they make mechanical and disappointing love as the company and Velma keep the song percolating. Then, Fred tries to walk out on Roxie, and she shoots him. And all that jazz.

The bedroom, three hours later. Roxie’s husband, Amos, speaks to Sergeant Fogarty, and takes the fall for his wife, claiming to have killed Fred in self-defense. He claims Fred broke into their house. As he signs the confession, his gorgeous wife Roxie sings “Funny Honey”, a hymn to her devoted husband. Amos keeps elaborating on his lie, and it becomes increasingly unbelievable. Then, the dead man’s I.D. Makes it clear to Amos it was a man his wife knew. And she lied to her husband, he wasn’t a burglar. Now, he doesn’t care if his tramp of a wife hangs. As the body’s removed, Roxie changes her tune from what a great guy her hubby is to what a louse he is.

In “Limbo” (the stage center area which serves as every location in the show), we’re introduced to six merry murderesses in Cook County Jail, Velma and five others, each with their own gruesome tale. (“Cell Block Tango”, very funny and grim number.) Velma tells her story. She had a double act with her sister. Velma’s husband, Charlie, traveled with them. She caught her sister and husband practicing one of the acts more…um…acrobatic moves, blanked out and shot them both. We meet the Matron of the cell block, Mama Morton. She let’s her prisoners know that “When You’re Good To Mama”, Mama’s good to you. She sees the jail as a sort of business where she gets whatever she wants, and the implication is that what she wants includes sexual favors. Velma meets with “Mama”, and is thrilled that papers are calling her double murder the crime of the year. Mama has already done her magic, since Velma “took care of her.” Velma’s trial is set, she’ll be acquitted, and famous. Then Mama will put Velma in Vaudeville and they’ll both clean up. (A similar idea can be found in Ragtime, as it’s based on a true story.) Mama has arranged agents, a tour, and huge paychecks. So long as Velma keeps coughing over cash.

The cells again. Roxie is in one. Velma enters the cell and orders Roxie out of her chair. Mama introduces them, and Roxie is agog! The Velma Kelly! Roxie asks for Velma’s advice, but Velma would prefer it if they did not get involved. Mama offers to help. She asks Roxie what she plans to tell the jury. When Roxie suggests she’ll tell them the truth, Both Velma and Mama think she’s either stupid or mad. Mama explains that the crime isn’t important at the trial – the grounds are, why she did it. Roxie says her grounds were she was drunk., and Mama thinks Roxie should talk to her lawyer. Roxie doesn’t have one, and as Mama say, “you are shit out of luck, my dear.” But mama lets her know that in Chicago, murder is a form of entertainment, and they haven’t hung a woman in decades. Roxie prays, which sends Velma to her bed.

Mama explains to Roxie that she takes care of all of Velma’s needs, for money. Velma has money. Her attorney if the great Billy Flynn, the best criminal lawyer in Chicago. Mama could call Billy for Roxie, fir $100. And Billy’s retainer is $5,000, but he’s never lost a case with a woman client. Alone, Roxie ponders where on earth she can get $5,000.

A “Tap Dance” ensues, wherein Roxie cons her husband, Amos, into getting the money together for her. Enter Billy Flynn, the man all the girls want – to get them off for murder. And Billy? He doesn’t care about money or anything else, he tells us with an oily, cheesy grin. No, says Billy, “All I Care About” is love. He means all kinds of love..Of course, he wealthy, famous, and basking in his own glory.

In Billy’s office. Amos meets Billy (Billy mistakenly calls him “Andy), but he doesn’t quite have the whole $5,000. He’s got $2,000, and not much hope of getting the rest. Amos promises to pay the man out of his salary every week for the rest of his life if he’ll take the case. Amos feels it’s hopeless, starts to take back his $2,000, when Billy grabs the money and states that he always plays fair, he’s taken the case and that’s it. Billy’s plan…publicity. He’ll make Roxie a bigger murderess-celebrity than Velma Kelly. Once famous, people will buy anything and everything connected to her, and the rest of the $5,000 will quickly be raised. He talks to Roxie, who offers Flynn a different sort of pay. But all she means to him is $5,000. And he brings in his chosen reporter to make Roxie a star. The reporter’s name is “Mary Sunshine”, and the way she sees it, there’s “A Little Bit Of Good” in everyone. Billy coaches Roxie for the interview. Clean language, win sympathy. To that end, Billy has contrived a new history for Roxy. She’s a Southern girl from a fine family. Her parents are dead. She was educated at Sacred Heart, ruined by her husband, became an alcoholic, and then, blam. She has sinned, and now she’s sorry. Even though the dead man threatened to kill her first, she wishes she could have died in his place. They both reached for the gun at the same time. It’s self-defense. As the press steps in, he reminds her – remorse, regret, they both reached for the gun.

Roxie greets the press with a thick Southern accent. Billy manipulates the interview to his story, “We Both Reached For The Gun”. He answers every question for her, as if he’s the one being interviewed. In fact, he even drinks milk and keeps talking for her, much as a ventriloquist would do. The reporters buy everything. As the reporters cry out her story, she tells the audience her real story. She always wanted to be famous, and she wanted to go into Vaudeville. She married, Amos bored her, she fooled around. She feels that if Flynn gets her off, “Roxie” can still be a Vaudeville star.

Roxie’s goods are auctioned, and they make a fortune. In jail, Velma sees Roxie’s headlines and is furious. And Mama has bad news, Velma’s Vaudeville tour is canceled. After all, her name hasn’t been in the papers. It’s all Roxie. Velma has an idea. She’ll talk Roxie into doing her old sister act. Mama sees money, she loves it. Velma sells Roxie on the idea that “I Can’t Do It Alone”. She pitches the whole act, but Roxie is unimpressed. Roxie knows that she’s the star, now.

A bedroom somewhere in Chicago. Mama She tells us about a new murderess who killed her husband and two women he was in bed with. A new star is born.

In jail. Billy is now defending Kitty, the new star murderess. But Kitty is very angry, kind of crazy and violent. Kitty does not want Billy as council, and she pretty much beats him up. But Roxie, calling for the reporters and Billy, is ignored. In fact, Billy can’t quite recall her name, now. Velma wants some of Billy’s time, too. He blows off both girls. The two women realize no one will help. Each is alone and must help herself. (“My Own Best Friend”)At the end of the big song, Velma bows, Roxie faints. Velma doesn’t get it, until, “faint”, Roxie calls the reporters. And she claims to be pregnant. Velma is impressed, and Billy is suddenly her attorney again, demanding the best doctor for her.

ACT TWO: Reporters await news about Roxie. Velma wonders why she didn’t think of the pregnancy thing, and admires Roxie. (“I Know A Girl”) And it comes out Roxie is pregnant. Roxie asks the ladies and gentlemen of the press to allow “the two of us” to rest. (“Me And My Baby”) Mary Sunshine insists Billy get Roxie’s trial going. And Amos announces (as a part of the song) that he is the father of the baby to be. Billy has a new plan. He’ll get Amos to divorce Roxie, which will throw all the sympathy her way. No one listens to Amos, he’s doomed. He’s invisible, “Mr. Cellophane”. Billy corners Amos and lets him know that, per the calendar, he couldn’t possibly be the father. He embitters Amos, pushing him toward divorce.

Jail. A poker game that various murderesses play with Mama. They all cheat. Their hands are, of course, impossible. Billy enters, asks the Matron (Mama) to get Roxie. Velma tries to talk to Billy about her own impending case, just weeks away. But he doesn’t care, and informs her that her trial has been pushed back. Roxie got Velma’s date. Velma shows Billy her plan for “When Velma Takes The Stand”. She’s got the whole act staged. Billy is not interested. Roxie has overheard, and tells her it stinks. Billy lets Roxie know he’s gotten Amos to file for divorce. His new plan? Get Amos on the stand to say he made a mistake, he still loves Roxie. The jury will fall all over themselves to get the lovebirds re-united. And he wants Roxie knitting a baby garment in court. Roxie arrogantly starts talking back to Billy. She’s sick of him telling her what to do like she’s some dumb, common criminal. He points out that is exactly what she is. They fight, she says she doesn’t need Billy, the press loves her. He lets her know the press will love her more when she hangs, it will sell more papers. They’re quits.

One of the murderesses, a Russian girl, is being questioned by her lawyer, Mama acts as translator. The lawyer warns the girl will rot in jail. In Hungarian, the girl says that Uncle Sam is fair, and she’s innocent. Mama believes her. The lawyer wants to know what innocence has to do with her trial. The girl says what little English she knows as she goes off to trial…”No…not…guilty.” She is hanged in a theatrical manner. Now, Cook County is hanging women again.

Frilly, Billy carries papers. Billy tells her she will do everything he tells her. Roxie was scared enough a moment ago to re-hire Billy, but she doesn’t want him pushing her around. Billy feels he’s the star of the trial, not Roxie. He softens a moment to reassure her. And she admits she’s worried. Billy explains that what he’ll need in court is for her to “Razzle Dazzle” ‘em. It’s all smoke and glitter and mirrors.

In court. One actor plays all 12 members of the jury, constantly changing costumes. Roxie sits and knits. Amos is called to the stand. Billy attacks the man for starting divorce proceedings based on question as to the child’s father, and asks if Amos checked things out. Stunned, Amos tries to get in that it was Billy who told him…Billy rolls on. He wants to know if the kid is Amos’, would he take Roxie back? Roxie swears the child’s father is Amos.

Roxie takes the stand. Billy has her admit that she signed a statement saying she had an illicit affair with the deceased. She answers questions as rehearsed. As she explains, we see Roxie and Fred’s relationship start…in Roxie’s version. Fred was a gentleman. (He wasn’t.) She had quarreled with her husband that morning. In her version, she pestered Amos to distraction about him working too hard, wanting to do his laundry…the perfect wife, taking all the blame. She tried to end the affair, to be a good wife, but in her version, Fred went bonkers. She finally admits she killed him, but she’s not a criminal, and she weeps. Billy has the handkerchief ready in hand. In her version, she tells Fred who is furious that she can’t be with him, she’s carrying Amos’ child. She describes Fred attempting to rape her. They both reach for the gun – but she gets there first. It was her life or his, and she had to save…the baby.

A room in the jail. Velma and Mama listen to the trial on the radio. Mary Sunshine paints a picture of Roxie as heroic, heartbroken. Roxie has stolen Velma’s plan for trial, including her rhinestone shoes, and Velma is furious. Mama mourns that the whole world is low brow, including Roxie. Velma and Mama want to know what happened to “Class”.

The courthouse. The last day of Roxie’s trial. Billy delivers her summation, painting Roxie as a victim, abused, repentant. It is utter garbage. He points out that despite what the prosecution says, things are not what they seem to be – and he undressed Mary Sunshine to reveal that she is a he.

Later, the Judge asks the Jury for their verdict. They are about to announce guilt or innocence when a gunshot rings out. A divorce in the next courtroom has gone ugly, the woman shot thee people. The stage clears, as that trial is juicier than this one, leaving Billy and Roxie. She’s furious. Isn’t she famous? Why don’t they want to talk to her? She ha also been found not guilty. She doesn’t care about that. (“Nowadays”/”R.S.V.P.”/”Keep It Hot”) Velma and Roxie do end up performing together. They thanks the audience for their faith in their innocence. Bless this country, and the audience.

THE SONGS:

“All That Jazz”, “Funny Honey”, “Cell Block Tango”, “When You’re Good To Mama”, “Tap Dance”, “All I Care About”, “A Little Bit Of Good”, “We Both Reached For The Gun”, “Roxie”, “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “Chicago After Midnight”, “My Own Best Friend”, “I Know A Girl”, “Me And My Baby”, “Mister Cellophane”, “When Velma Takes The Stand”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Class”, “Nowadays”, “R.S.V.P.”, “Keep It Hot”

Hits include “All That Jazz”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Cell Block Tango”

MY OPINIONS:

Feel free to ignore my opinions and rating, and all that jazz.

I saw the original production, directed by Bob Fosse. I saw the revival, put together by Fosse’s long-time significant other, Ann Reinking. I think, as was often the case, that Fosse turned a good and clever show into a big, fat hit.

But this is a clever show, even if it is utterly cynical and heartless. It is wicked entertainment, and a powerful commentary about the greed and the misplaced values of our time. It’s hard not to laugh at the vile behavior of all of these characters, who in the end are rewarded for their evil with a kind of fame. Bertolt Brecht (The Threepenny Opera) would have loved this show. Frank Loesser (Guys & Dolls, How To Succeed In Business without Really Trying) would have recognized it immediately for the smart show it is. Even the greatest comic playwright, Moliere, would have approved of the way it makes an audience laugh at foul behavior, and then makes the audience wonder if they themselves are not guilty of similar behavior. And with the astonishing popularity of reality programming on TV today, featuring murderers and you name it, much of the audience is guilty of precisely what this show accuses us of. In fact, more people are guiltier today than ever before. And this may, in time and if this dirty trend continues, eventually make this musical satire unbearable for an audience to watch. The sense of guilt and identification could become overwhelming. So it’s possible this highly successful show’s days are numbered. We shall see.

I find the parade of self-involved songs becomes a bit tedious for me. I long for a breath of sincerity when I watch this show, and pretty much in vain. I can get into the fun and the celebration of insincerity and venality as well as the next guy, but I would like this show better if it had provided some relief. It may be there to be had. There is a moment late in Act II, before the trial, when Billy tries to gently buck up Roxie, and she admits she’s afraid. But honestly, they’ve both been such utter bastards to that point, it’s hard to take it seriously and makes the moment seem an afterthought, as if the writers were saying then what I’m saying now – that the audience needs a sincerity break. The problem is it does feel like an afterthought, and hence, insincere.

Kander and Ebb specialized in glitzy, clever songs that comment of situations rather than experience them firsthand. It’s not that they didn’t write some firsthand, “what I’m experiencing now” moments, they did. But they weren’t anywhere nearly as good at those as they were at commentary, once-removed and often satiric. Sincerity is not their strong point. You accept this in doing Chicago, and dance with the woman you brought to the party. And obviously, so far, audiences have been very willing to have that dance.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is, overall, simple, theatrical and tuneful. It is not a hard score to teach, to play or to learn, with the possible exception of The Cell Block Tango,” and “We Both Reached For The Gun”. The score is energetic, structured, glitzy. Don’t look for much heart in the score (outside of Roxie Hart…get it?…), just get the fun into it. Musical Director should play well, be a rhythm machine, work well with Choreographers.

Roxie Hart – Mezzo, must belt. Must be able to change moods at a second’s notice. Must harmonize fairly well.

Velma Kelly – Alto, must belt. Must allow some emotion into each number, and feel a bit more human, more real than Roxie when she sings.

Billy Flynn – Baritone, deceptively sweet, sincere voice, smooth, some belt required.

Amos Hart – Baritone.

Matron (Mama) – Alto with a big belt, a muscular voice, strong supported upper register.

Mary Sunshine – “Soprano” male.

Liz – All the cell block girls must belt in alto range.

Annie – All the cell block girls must belt in alto range.

June – All the cell block girls must belt in alto range.

Hunyak – Rumanian, speaks little English. All the cell block girls must belt in alto range.

Mona – All the cell block girls must belt in alto range.

Kitty – Non-Singing.

Fred Casely – Non-Singing.

Sgt. Fogerty – (Double) Non-Singing.

The Judge – (Could double as Fogerty) Non-Singing.

Court Clerk – (Double if possible) Non-Singing.

Aaron – (Double) Non-Singing.

Harry – (Double as Clerk or some other minor character) Non-Singing.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is really a dance show, and the choreography needs to be exceptionally entertaining and professional. The numbers are often commentary, the characters performing them seemingly removed from any feeling about the action.

Numbers the Choreographer will probably stage include “All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “Tap Dance”, “All I Care About”, “We Both Reached For The Gun”, “Roxie”, “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “Chicago After Midnight”, “I Know A Girl”, “Me And My Baby”, “Mister Cellophane”, “When Velma Takes The Stand”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “Class”, “Nowadays”, “R.S.V.P.”, “Keep It Hot”. That’s most of the score, obviously.

Dance is integrated in Chicago to an extraordinary degree. It is used for commentary, to communicate plot, to develop characters, and to imbue the show with vitality and sexual energy. There’s going to be a lot of serious jazz/show dance, it’s indispensable. Your Choreographer will need to be extremely familiar with Broadway-style dance, specific, edgy, sometimes sexually overt, perfectly executed. This is no show for a beginner Choreographer. It is often directed by a Director/Choreographer, due to the level that dialogue, music and dance need to be integrated. This is a show that should be put together by a team with experience and expertise.

I think a key to choreographing this show is to make sure, when you get into putting together a dance number with ensemble in it, that each number visually revolve around and remain focused on the character at its middle. “The Cell Block Tango” is an exception in that a number of women in the jail are the focus. But most numbers have either Roxie, Velma, or Billy at their center, or some combination thereof. While you put together gyrating bodies galore, make sure the story is never obstructed, that the characters we should be connecting to remain at the center.

Some of the numbers clearly call for a certain type of dance. I think that “Tap Dance”, and “Cell Block Tango” speak for themselves. Other stories are more involved in story-telling, they are comic ballads in the classic sense of “a song that tells a story”. These would include “We Both Reached For The Gun”, and “When Velma Takes The Stand”. A Choreographer will need to work closely with the Director to make sure the story acts as a through line in these, and almost every other number.

You have an interesting problem. Two of the show’s “hits” are nearly identical in what they say, in tempo, and in construction. “All That Jazz”, and “Razzle Dazzle” are, for my taste, too much alike. “Roxie” also seems very similar to these two numbers. They all share a similar tempo marking, feel, etc. I like Kander and Ebbs work, but they were ponies with a few well-worked-out tricks, they did not have a massive arsenal of creativity in terms of song construction. When you design what you want to do with these songs, look for ways to differentiate them in their movement and feel.

“All That Jazz” is your opening number, and must establish the feel of the entire show, the location, and win the audience over. It’s an okay opening, but the phrase “all that jazz” doesn’t really mean anything specific, which hampers an audience’s ability to hook up to it – and your ability to provide it meaning as a Choreographer. Give it a meaning, a specific one agreed upon with the Director. Does it mean “anything goes”, “all the crap that people do”? Decide, and make the song somehow be about that.

“Razzle Dazzle” is about smoke and mirrors in court, and in the broader sense, shock and awe in the real world, bamboozling people with a show when you have no substance. There’s nothing at the core, nothing to work with, so you put on a show to hide this fact and win the day. And that’s what the song should demonstrate.

“Roxie” is almost a lampoon of numbers like “Hello Dolly” and “Mame”, which genuinely celebrate a woman. Roxie is, of course, a nasty piece of work , and the people who celebrate her are voyeurs, the press, men who want a piece of her, and generally horrible human beings. In staging this one, create characters for the ensemble that fit this criteria and provide them each their reason for celebrating her, both in the performer’s mind, and for the audience.

Some of the numbers are straight “show biz”, like “I Can’t Do It alone”, the creation on an “act” for stage that isolates Velma as the surviving half of a team she ended with murder, and who now needs a “partner” – which would seem to me to be a dangerous assignment. The “bits” she does should be straight Vaudeville. You may need to do some homework if you don’t have a real grasp on what Vaudeville was and how to stage this.

Ballads can sound alike in this show, too. As a Choreographer, you may need to lend a hand to find ways to differentiate the feel of “My Own Best Friend” and “Nowadays”.

Comic ballads like “Honey Bunny”, “A Little Bit Of Good”, and “Mister Cellophane” are almost entirely character-driven, which is why a Director should handle them. That doesn’t mean that the Choreographer won’t be drafted to help shape the look and movement-feel of these songs.

Chicago is a choreographic workout.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Roxie Hart – Twenties. A sexy girl. Not too bright, but canny. Has delusions of grandeur. Has a bit of show-biz in her blood. Will use anyone and anything to get her way, utterly without morals. We must believe that if she felt scorned, she would pull the trigger out of sheer self-involvement. Cast for acting, type, voice, and dance, all must be strong. Star quality.

Velma Kelly – Older than Roxie, perhaps by as much as ten years. Less imaginative than Roxie, more pragmatic and down to earth. Fairly bright, but a born career girl, show biz. Again, it must be believable that, in Velma’s case, she would be tough enough to kill two people who cheated her. A survivor. Cast for acting, type, voice, dance, all must be strong. Star quality.

Billy Flynn – Mid thirties to fifty or so. A completely disingenuous lawyer. (Isn’t that like saying an orange orange?) Can put on the charm so thick it can’t be shoveled. Changes direction on a dime. Successful, ruthless, utterly committed to self. Uses anyone and everything. Knows his way around the press, courtrooms, jails, has real expertise but absolutely no faith in actual justice or in the legal system. Everything exists to be played. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement. Star quality.

Amos Hart – At least ten years older than his tasty wife. Boring, forgettable, requires a fine comic actor who can play with some real intensity and pain. Borderline sympathetic, only he has no loyalties that are deeply held, and is easily manipulated. Cast for type, acting, voice, a little movement.

Matron (Mama) – Anywhere in her 40s or 50s. A large, imposing woman, vaguely dangerous. She believes in the free market system, so long as she’s the market and everyone pays in. But she does keep her word, when it’s convenient to do so. Enjoys the ladies under her control. Does not seem to have any life outside the prison. Intuitive, she does understand her prisoners well. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement. Must be very strong in all departments except dance.

Mary Sunshine – Any age 25 and up. A male dressed as a female, and believably so. Over-the-top portrayal of the press as ingenuous, self-involved, hiding their own dark secrets. Cast for acting, type.

Liz – 20s- 40s. Impatient, sensitive to sound. Cast for type, acting, voice, movement. Must be good at all.

Annie – 20s- 40s. A normal gal driven to kill by a married man. (Well, not so normal.) Cast for type, acting, voice, movement. Must be good at all.

June – 20s- 40s. A woman who fooled around, got caught, then killed her husband. Tough, dry wit. Cast for type, acting, voice, movement. Must be good at all.

Hunyak – 20s- 40s. Rumanian, speaks little English. Must be believed when she says she’s innocent, she probably is.

Mona – 20s- 40s. A woman who fell in love with a man who could not make up his mind, and so he tried a little of everyone…er, everything. Cast for type, acting, voice, movement. Must be good at all.

Kitty – 20s- 40s, almost a madwoman. Violent, angry, unwilling to cooperate, a murderess. Cast for acting, type.

Fred Casely – A furniture salesman, middle-of-the-road guy, perhaps in his 30s. A jerk. Must play a fantasy version of himself later, a gentleman. Cast for acting and type.

Sgt. Fogerty – (Double) A policeman, in his middle years, tough, direct. Cast for acting, type.

The Judge – (Could double as Fogerty) A judge. Cast for acting, type.

Court Clerk – (Double if possible) Cast for type.

Aaron – (Double, MC, other roles?) A young lawyer, somewhat practical.

Harry – (Double as Clerk or some other minor character) A man who gets killed by his wife for sleeping with two other women…at the same time…and who has a “reasonable” explanation. Cast for acting, type.

SETS:

Intended to be played on a unit set with additions brought in and removed. Essentially, it’s played on a nearly bare stage. The orchestra in the original was on stage, in period dress, atop a huge cylinder that hydraulically lifted, revealing a sort of elevator that would open and let out actors for the next scene. You do not need to do this. In a way, locations are handled in a way that is pretty Shakespearean. But your best guide as to a possible approach would be Brecht. You could have actors walk on and off carrying signs letting us know what the next set is. (The jailed murderesses, perhaps, each carrying signs in character and with attitude.) That removes the need to create “sets”, which is a good idea for Chicago.

You could create a general backdrop of the city of Chicago in the late 20s. It could contain lit elements, even some neon. But for the most part, with this approach, all you need are perhaps some furniture brought on and off. Beds, chairs, etc. If you can lower a “wall” of jail bars for the “Cell Block Tango” that can be seen through, and place the ladies on the other side, great. If there is a gate or door in the cells that can be opened, this set will be useful.

The judge can sit behind a podium of sorts, perhaps very high and surreal in its shape and elevation, almost Dali-esque.

I would not plan of cut-outs or any kind of set changes, the show must be fluid, it just has to keep moving. Changes should be choreographed to occur during the narrative intro to each new scene, quickly, and visibly a part of the show. (That’s Brecht’s approach.)

This job will either be complex or simple, depending on your approach. But I really would not allow it to go the more traditional Musical Comedy route of a full set for each location. Fosse saw fit to go with a unit set for very good reasons. Cost would be one reason, speed of the action another. And the locations, except jail, don’t really matter. We’re in Chicago.

COSTUMES:

It’s entirely a period piece, late ’20s. Flappers, furs, tuxes, suits.

And women is jail dressed, as well.


Shoes and hats must be right. Accessorizing must be in period. A fun show to costume, but a lot of work. And remember, your lead women and your ensemble dance…and dance…and dance. The clothes they wear must be able to support a lot of song and dance, and breathing.

Thrift stores can help. Costume shops will be more helpful. You may need to build some costumes. A really big job, and it must be done very well.

PROPS:

Guns, quite a few, period-correct. Billy’s briefcase. Shackles for prisoners. A cop’s billy club. A detective’s notepad. A gavel for the judge. Cameras (in period) for the press, with flashes that work. Cash ( in period, or in an envelope) for Amos, to give to Billy. Not too rough a job.

LIGHTING:

A kinetic show that must remain fluid and vital at all times. Numbers have looks. Some are dark and pseudo-grim, like “Cell Block Tango”, which is often lit from the floor up to create gruesome images of the six murderesses. Some sparkle and pop, like “All That Jazz”, and “Razzle Dazzle.” (In fact, the lights can be a part of the joke for “Razzle Dazzle.” You could set up running lights around the stage and have them chase at a point in the number. The idea is to blind with bull. Anyway, this show is going to call for a lot of looks, directional lighting to focus audience attention to parts of the stage, and a lot of cues. You’ll need a digital board, if at all possible.

MAKE-UP:

In period. The prisoners are made-up. Men should be made-up unobtrusively, women per the period. And hair must be in-period and right! That could be some work.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Set Designer,. Costume Designer

MY THOUGHTS:
A really fun show for the leads, and potentially your audience. But without three strong leads, and arguably five (Amos, Mama), this show isn’t going to work at all. This is easily one of the most successful shows of the past 40 years or so. It does not seem to rely much on an understanding or memory of the 1920s on the part of the audience, it still works though hardly anyone alive recalls the period.

But it runs a risk. The show walks perilously close to camp. It is not just a lampoon of a period, of course, or a fashion. It is a virulent comment about modern day culture. But if played too tongue-in-cheek, to “nod-nod-wink-wink”, it can descend into camp. Don’t let it. What Roxie and Velma are going through is life and death for them. We see another prisoner, an innocent woman, hanged in Act II. Roxie fights bitterly with Billy, and Velma fights with some desperation to get his attention. It’s life and death, and should be treated as such. Keep the stakes real and high, so the audience can choose to care, or to reject the characters. But don’t “nudge nudge” them into believing they do not need to have an opinion since you’ve already told them what their opinion is, based on your approach. Let the audience participate.

This show is small enough that, in the future, a lot of smaller theater groups could give it a production. Also, the three leads are terrific roles, and so stars will want to play them on Broadway, the West End, and elsewhere. It’s likely to survive a long time.