"Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery - all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts."
Chicago, a musical originally choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse in 1975, is the story of Roxie Hart, a wannabe cabaret star in 1920s Chicago. She sleeps around unknown to her husband, Amos, but has a falling-out with one of her lovers, shoots him and is arrested for murder. In prison, she develops a rivalry with the star Velma Kelly, who killed her own husband and sister.Roxie, through bribing the prison warden, Mama Morton, gets the best lawyer in town, Billy Flynn. Billy is a smooth-talking trickster who has never lost a case. As tensions mount and the media make Roxie a star, fame begins to get to Roxie's head. But the press will love her even more if she is found guilty...A biting satire of celebrity trials, the press and show business in general, Chicago had an extremely successful Broadway revival in 1996. From there, it was made into a movie in 2002. Also notable for the Broadway productions, which regularly star big names — the original boasted Chita Rivera as Velma and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn; the revival starred Bebe Neuwirth as Velma and Joel Grey as Amos, and since then has had tons of Stunt Casting.Based on the 1924 nonmusical play Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins, which was in turn based on actual murder cases. It was adapted twice for the screen, first as a silent film in 1927, then in 1941 as Roxie Hart starring Ginger Rogers. Modern productions tend to go under the title Play Ball, the play's original subtitle, to avoid confusion with the musical.
This musical play contains examples of:
Alliterative Family: Velma Kelly and her sister Veronica, though it's suggested those are just stage names.
Alliterative Name: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Keeper of the Keys, the Countess of the Clink, the Mistress of Murderess' Row, Matron Mama Morton!"
Berserk Button: Apparent with some of the other women in "The Cell Block Tango", especially with the woman who killed her husband for popping bubblegum too loudly.
Bilingual Bonus: The Hungarian is left untranslated. For those wondering, her monologue in the Cell Block Tango translates to, "What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband and I chopped his head off. But it's not true. I am innocent. I don't know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn't understand."
Billy Flynn: I don't like to blow my own horn; but, believe me, if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today and he had five thousand dollars and he'd come to me things would have turned out differently.
Death by Woman Scorned: A recurring theme in "The Cell Block Tango" — Velma killed her husband and his lover (her own sister), Annie poisoned her boyfriend after finding out he was already married to six other women (One of those Mormons, you know), and Mona killed her boyfriend after finding out he had three other girlfriends and a boyfriend.
Downer Ending: In the original musical, no-one in the audience gets what they want. Anyone supporting Roxie or Velma will be disappointed that they stay small-time. Anyone wanting them sent down, will be sad they got off. Amos is still left with nothing, and the only person who was innocent is the one who dies. The two most unsympathetic characters, Mama and Billy, get away scot free.
Humble Pie: Roxie is acquitted, but literally moments later, a new heinous crime is committed and all the reporters rush out of the courtroom, leaving her all alone and without the fame and adoration she had been seeking.
Hypocritical Humor: "Class," in which Mama and Velma lament the lack of manners, dignity, and overall class... while simultaneously swearing like sailors. ("Holy shit!" "Holy shit!" "Jesus Christ!" "Every girl is a twat!")
June: Now, I'm standing in the kitchen carvin' up the chicken for dinner, minding my own business, and in storms my husband Wilbur, in a jealous rage. "You been screwin' the milkman!" he says. He was crazy. And he kept on screamin', "you been screwin' the milkman!" [drumbeat] And then he ran into my knife! He ran into my knife ten times!
Velma's solo in the song is the same:
Velma: My sister, Veronica and I had this double act. And my husband, Charlie, travelled around with us. Now, for the last number in our act, we did these 20 acrobatic tricks in a row. One, two, three, four, five... splits, spread eagles, back flips, flip flops, one right after the other. So this one night before the show we're down at the Hotel Cicero, the three of us, boozin', havin' a few laughs and we ran out of ice, so I go out to get some. I come back, open the door, and there's Veronica and Charlie doing Number Seventeen, the Spread Eagle. [drum beat] Well, I was in such a state of shock, I completely blacked out. I can't remember a thing. It wasn't until later, when I was washing the blood off my hands, that I even knew they were dead.
The denial is made by a cheating boyfriend while he's still in bed with two other women: "Who you gonna believe, your own eyes or me?"
Billy Flynn always gets Amos's name wrong, calling him Andy — until the trial, when Flynn suddenly gets his name right, putting him off his guard and helping Flynn get the testimony he needs. The implication that this is a deliberate tactic is strengthened by an earlier scene where Flynn is talking to Roxie without her husband present, and gets his name right then.
Flynn does the same thing to Roxie once, calling her Trixie, in the scene where he's shelved her case to focus on a fresher scandal.
Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Played with. Roxie pretends to be pregnant to gain the press and jury's sympathy. Her husband Amos is excited until it turns out that he couldn't possibly be the father of the child and gets very upset about Roxie being pregnant with another man's baby.
Meaningful Name: The only two innocent characters in the musical have names that imply that they are fools:
Hunyak, the only wrongly convicted prisoner, and the only one to be executed. "Honyock" is an ethnic slur that was popular in America from the 1880s through the 1950s. It is derived from a Hungarian word meaning (among other things) "simple minded" and "loser." Mostly directed at Central-Eastern Europeans. Her real name, Katalin, means "pure".
Amos, who keeps having to remind Billy his name isn't "Andy". This is a reference to Amos 'n' Andy, a race comedy radio series originating from Chicago radio station WMAQ beginning in 1928. Most of the series' male characters were performed by two white comedians who had worked in minstrel shows on vaudeville. In the series, Amos was a schemer and Andy was innocent and a bit simpleminded. (This is a happy accident as the name Amos is a carryover from the original play and movie which both predated Amos 'n' Andy.)
Noodle Incident: "I Can't Do It Alone" is an in-universe Aversion. Velma is trying to convince Roxie that the Kelly Sisters' Double Act is too fantastic a chance to pass up on, so she demonstrates it for Roxie — but it just looks silly with one person. It gets especially funny if you listen to the Revival cast soundtrack, as you only gets hints such as "See? I kick really high!" and an enthusiastic "SIDEWAYS!"
Subverted with Billy Flynn. Though he intended to be Roxie's defense attorney for $5,000 and nothing less, he agrees to help with only $2,000 that Amos managed to scrape together. Supposedly, it is because he admires Amos' loyalty and love to Roxie. However, he's being facetious. Flynn couldn't care less about Amos' loyalty; he smells money in the case and doesn't want to let the possibility go. It doesn't take him long to get the rest of the money by trading on the public's fascination with Roxie.
Played straight with Mama Morton when she works on behalf of her prisoner the Hunyak, translating for her lawyer and insisting on her innocence. It's not enough to save her, but its the only time we see Mama doing something without benefits.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The Musical wasn't a great success when it first came out because it was considered too cynical. The revival is currently running (it's been about 15 years), and it is one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history.
Sophisticated as Hell: "Class", in which Velma Kelly and Mama Morton lament the decline of modern morals, is this trope from start to finish.
Whatever happened to, "Please, may I?" And "Yes, thank you?" And "How charming?" Now, every son of a bitch Is a snake in the grass Whatever happened to class?
Stripperiffic: Both genders and everyone (except for Amos, Mama Morton and Billy Flynn) is like this. And even Billy has gets his share - one of his numbers is a striptease.
Mary Sunshine is an unflattering take on Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote the original non-musical Chicago based on crimes she had reported on. Oddly enough, the Mary Sunshine character and her flighty personality is lifted from the original Chicago (though the drag queen element is added for the musical), so it seems the character was originally Self-Deprecation.
In the end, the whole "we couldn't have done it without you" bit is this.
Token Good Teammate: To the extent that a group of people who do a co-ordinated song-and-dance number like "Cell Block Tango" protesting their innocence can be considered a team, Hunyak is the token genuine innocent.
Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Hunyak, who is the only woman in "The Cell Block Tango" who did not commit the murder she was accused of, is the only person we see found guilty and executed.
"Cell Block Tango" starts in F minor, goes up a semitone before the second repetition of the chorus, then reverts temporarily to its original key on the fifth repetition that follows Velma's solo, then goes up a half-step in the sixth repetition, then a half step for the finale.
"When You're Good to Mama," at least in the film version, starts in F# major, then goes up a semitone about halfway through the song. In the theatre, it starts in G and stys there the entire song.
Other adaptations of the play provide examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: In Roxie Hart, Amos did in fact shoot Fred Casely, but Roxie took the blame instead hoping to become famous. Also, Billy Flynn was the prosecutor, while Roxie ended up falling in love with the public defender. Regardless, it was still a satire of how the media influences the law.