Saturday, January 4, 2014

Chicago-The Musical

Promoting the Broadway Hit Chicago
Promoting the Broadway Hit Chicago
Hello, and welcome back to Old Highway Notes as we explore Chicago, the starting point of our epic musical journey down Route 66. Chicago is such an interesting city musically, so I was quite torn as to where to begin. In the end I decided that after Sufjan Stvens it was a good time for something a little lighter, and after a fair amount of Chicago history in my last post, a musical theater album based on real events from Chicago history seemed like a good call.

Our old friend Wikipedia states:
Chicago is a musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and a book by Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, the musical is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about actual criminals and crimes she reported on. The story is a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the "celebrity criminal."
I first became acquainted with the play when it was released as a film in 2002. It had been a successful Broadway franchise with a production in 1975 that ran for 936 performances until it was retired in 1977. Several other productions were made including a 1979 long running West End production that showed for 600 performances. The show was reproduced on Broadway in 1996. The 1996 staging of the show holds the distinction of being the longest running American Musical in Broadway history as well being the third longest running broadway show overall in history. A revival in the West End now hold the honor of being the longest running American musical in West End history, running for over 15 years.

Before the musical was made, there was a 1942 comedy starring Ginger Rogers that told the story. It was called Roxy Hart and is in my watch for list on TCM. My understanding is that film is most notable for some awkwardly placed dance numbers. Going back even further, Cecil B. DeMille produced a silent version in 1927. That also sounds like it would be worth seeking out.

This synopsis, again from Wikipedia, tells the story in a nutshell:
Act 1
In the mid 1920s in Chicago, Illinois, Velma Kelly is a vaudevillian who murdered both her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together. She welcomes the audience to tonight's show ("All That Jazz"). Meanwhile, we hear of chorus girl Roxie Hart's murder of her lover, nightclub regular Fred Casely.
Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and Amos cheerfully takes the blame. Roxie expresses her appreciation of her husband's thick skull ("Funny Honey"). However, when the police mention the deceased's name Amos belatedly puts two and two together. The truth comes out, and Roxie is arrested. She is sent to the women's block in Cook County Jail, inhabited by Velma and other murderesses ("Cell Block Tango"). The block is presided over by the corrupt Matron "Mama" Morton, whose system of mutual aid ("When You're Good to Mama") perfectly suits her clientele. She has helped Velma become the media's top murder-of-the-week and is acting as a booking agent for Velma's big return to vaudeville.
Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but also her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Roxie tries to convince Amos to pay for Billy Flynn to be her lawyer ("A Tap Dance"). Eagerly awaited by his all-girl clientele, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fan dancers ("All I Care About is Love"). Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine ("A Little Bit of Good"). Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached for the Gun") to the press while Roxie mouths the words.
Roxie becomes the new toast of Chicago and she proclaims so boastfully while planning for her future career in vaudeville ("Roxie"). As Roxie's fame grows, Velma's notoriety is left in the dust and in an "act of pure desperation", she tries to talk Roxie into recreating the sister act ("I Can't Do It Alone"), but Roxie turns her down, only to find her own headlines replaced by the latest sordid crime of passion. Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there's no one they can count on but themselves ("My Own Best Friend"), and the ever-resourceful Roxie decides that being pregnant in prison would put her back on the front page.
Act 2
Velma again welcomes the audience with the line "Hello, Suckers," another reference to Texas Guinan, who commonly greeted her patrons with the same phrase. She informs the audience of Roxie's continual run of luck ("I Know a Girl") despite Roxie's obvious falsehoods ("Me and My Baby"). A little shy on the arithmetic, Amos proudly claims paternity, and still nobody notices him ("Mr. Cellophane"). Velma tries to show Billy all the tricks she's got planned for her trial ("When Velma Takes The Stand"). With her ego growing, Roxie has a heated argument with Billy, and fires him. She is brought back down to earth when she learns that a fellow inmate has been executed.
The trial date arrives, and Billy calms her, telling her if she makes a show of it, she'll be fine ("Razzle Dazzle"), but when he passes all Velma's ideas on to Roxie, she uses each one, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, to the dismay of Mama and Velma ("Class"). As promised, Billy gets Roxie her acquittal but, just as the verdict is given, some even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away, and Roxie's fleeting celebrity life is over. Billy leaves, done with the case. Amos stays with her, glad for his wife, but she then confesses that there isn't really a baby, making Amos finally leave her. Left in the dust, Roxie pulls herself up and extols the joys of life ("Nowadays"). She teams up with Velma in a new act, in which they dance and perform ("Hot Honey Rag") until they are joined by the entire company ("Finale").[6]
In 1926, Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote a play entitled "Chicago"  that was based on true news stories in Chicago in the 1924, Her focus was on the way that news coverage made celebrities out of criminals. The musical carries the concept to its extreme conclusion. By depiction the events in the format of a vaudeville performance, the "media circus" that is modern news is exposed to be the showbiz that it is. And if you didn't get it, the tune "Razzle Dazzle" towards the end of the show makes it clear that guilt  is often no longer found in a court of law but in the court of public opinion.                     

An PDF of the script can be found HERE.

This performance of the complete show was found on YouTube. It isn't the highest quality in both quality of preformace or camera work, but it isn't horrible either and I found it enjoyable. The version of the album I added to my playlist is the 1975 orginal cast recording, Links to that can be found after the YouTube clips of the show,

Thanks for stopping by. Come by next Saturday as there is so much more to cover about Chicago, the start of Route 66. Stop by Sunday too, as we re-enter the United States from our side trip into Tijuana Mexico off of old Highway 101.

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Its not a highway without gift shops. Visit ours:

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