Inspired by a play of the 1920s based on crime reporting, in 1975 the musical play Chicago debuted on Broadway in New York City.
Created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, the musical play is a satire on crime and on celebrity criminals. In 1926, a play was done based on the trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, who were accused of murder.
The trial was the focus of all the newspapers and radio and was documented extensively by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, whose articles were then turned into a play.
Fosse and his wife Gwen Verdon wanted to buy the rights to the play, but were refused and only got the rights when Watkins died in 1969.
Opening at the 46th Street Theatre, the play starred Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach and Barney Martin as the leads. Verdon played Roxie, who kills her lover after a fight, while Rivera played Velma, who kills her cheating husband and his mistress, her sister.
The play’s choreography by Fosse is stereotypically his style, and has become one of his best known creations.
Orbach played Billy Flynn, the lawyer who transforms Roxie and Velma into celebrities during their trials to win sympathy from the judge and jury, while Martin plays Roxie’s ignored husband Amos.
Opening in 1975, the musical ran until 1977, while debuting on London’s West End in 1979. Revived in 1996 on Broadway, the play is the second longest running Broadway show, behind Phantom of the Opera.
Revived on London’s West End stages, the play also became a film for a second time in 2002. The first film was a silent film done in 1927 after the completion of the trials. Although the obsession of celebrity may be new, its decades old as Chicago illustrates.