Chicago, a musical originally choreographed, directed and co-written 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 that is still running to this day. From there, it was made into a movie in 2002. The Broadway productions regularly star big names — the original boasted Chita Rivera as Velma and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn; the revival starred Bebe Neuwirth as Velma (earning her her second Tony after winning one for another Fosse production Sweet Charity) 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!"
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: Based on the 1926 play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins.
- All Take and No Give: Amos and Roxie's marriage, with Amos as the Giver and Roxie as the Taker.
- Ambiguously Gay:
- Matron Mama Morton.
- Billy Flynn. Despite introducing himself as a romantic ladies' man, it's worth noting that everything else in the song is a lie, he never actually touches his showgirl chorus or alludes to any interest in women outside of said song, and is contemptuously amused when Roxie offers to sleep with him to lower her legal fees, telling her she's barking up the wrong tree. Not all productions play this up, but it's standard in the replica version based on the 1996 Broadway revival (ie, most professional productions since then).
- Amoral Attorney: Billy Flynn, who manages to acquit two murderers that we know of and likely dozens that we don't. He also brags about sleeping with clients during his introduction- though in a strange twist, even that might be a lie (see Ambiguously Gay above).
- Anti-Villain: June, maybe. Whether or not she was indeed "screwin' the milkman" (which we have no way of knowing), her husband Wilbur still comes off abusive and threatening toward her in her account, which makes it a little harder to blame her for offing him compared to, say, Liz shooting her boyfriend in the head for popping gum. June is notably relieved later on when Mama Morton reminds her that Wilbur is dead because June killed him, which, Black Comedy or not, does square with the possibility of June as an abused wife who finally snapped — or that she's just an amoral woman who slept with another man and got caught by an understandably upset husband. Unreliable Narrator, remember.
- Asshole Victim: Invoked; in "Cell Block Tango" the first proper lyric is "He had it comin'!" although at least some of them are extreme cases of Disproportionate Retribution, and, of course, Hunyak is completely innocent, but the language barrier prevents anyone from knowing this.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The public. Roxie gets off, but another scandal wrecks her attempt at fame. (That is, until she does a scandalous double act with Velma.)
- Attention Whore: RoxieRoxie: And the audience loves me. And I love them for loving me and they love me for loving them. And we love each other. 'Cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods...
Chorus Boy: That's too bad!
Roxie: And that's show biz, kid!
- The Bad Guy Wins: Billy Flynn gets both Roxie and Velma acquitted in the end.
- Berserk Button: Apparent with some of the other women in "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, Hunyak's monologue in "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."
- Black Comedy: Throughout. For example, presenting Katalin Hunyak with the famous Hungarian Rope Trick!, or the stories of the murderesses in "Cell Block Tango".
- Blasphemous Boast: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.
- Blatant Lies: Most of Billy Flynn's role.
- Broken Pedestal: Roxie starts out the play admiring Velma. Velma ruins this for her by talking about how Roxie will be lucky to get life in prison.
- Boom, Headshot!: One of the other women in the prison is in for shooting her husband in the head with a shotgun.
- Bubblegum Popping: Liz killed her boyfriend Bernie for doing this.
- Butt-Monkey: Poor Amos... he even has a song, "Mr. Cellophane", about it.
- Cain and Abel: Velma murdered her sister Veronica for sleeping with Velma's husband. Velma claims she entered a state of shock and doesn't remember what happened, but she doesn't seem to be grieving.
- Cheating with the Milkman: Mentioned in one of the spoken passages of "Cell Block Tango", though it's ambiguous whether or not the woman in question really was:...in storms my husband Wilbur, in a jealous rage. "You been screwin' the milkman!" he says.
- Chewbacca Defense: "Razzle Dazzle" is this trope in song form.
- Comedic Sociopathy: The play's humor.
- Contralto of Danger: Both Velma and Mama qualify as this.
- Courtroom Antic: All of Billy Flynn's role. Lampshaded with "Razzle Dazzle".
- Crapsack World
- A Deadly Affair: Three variations.
- Roxie kills her lover when she finds out he was not going to help her become a singer.
- Velma kills her sister and husband when she finds them in bed together.
- A rich heiress kills her husband and the two women he was having a threesome with.
- Death by Woman Scorned: A recurring theme in "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. Later Kitty Baxter kills her boyfriend and the two women she discovered in bed with him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: "So I took the shotgun off the wall and I fired two warning shots... into his head." For popping bubblegum.
- 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.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Mama is fine with the murderesses bribing her to get their alcohol and hair products, but an innocent woman who can't speak English needs her help, without money. Mama helps.
- Evil vs. Evil: The rivalry between Roxie and Velma.
- Fake Faint: In "When Velma Takes the Stand", Velma and Billy rehearse what she'll do to gain the jury's sympathy when she's called to testify at her trial, which includes pretending to faint.
- Fake Pregnancy: Roxie fakes a pregnancy in order to gain public attention and sympathy leading up to her murder trial.
- A Family Affair: Velma killed her husband and twin sister in a blind fury when catching them having sex after leaving for just a few minutes.
- Fanservice: Loads of it.
- Fiery Redhead: Roxie, officially. In practice (especially due to Stunt Casting), the line referring to her as a "cute redheaded chorine" is updated to match the hair color of the actress at that performance.
- 15 Minutes of Fame: Velma's own fame from her murder trial is usurped by Roxie's. Roxie has to fake a pregnancy to avoid her own trial being upstaged. And the second her trial is over, Roxie is forgotten for the next big crime.
- Genre Blind: Hunyak insists that the law will be on her side because "Uncle Sam is fair and just". Note that she says this right before she gets executed.
- Girls Behind Bars: Murderess Row
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Billy tells Roxie to invoke this and not swear during her press conference. She blows this immediately by talking about how she "shot the bastard".
- Gun Struggle: The entire plot involves Roxie Hart and her Smug Snake lawyer Billy Flynn trying to convince the jury that Roxy's shooting of her lover Fred Casley was this rather than murder. There is even a brief scene were such a struggle is recreated in court.
- Hard Truth Aesop: If you have enough money and influence with the public, you can literally get away with murder. It doesn't help that Roxie and Velma were based on two real women that used a powerful lawyer and public opinion to reach for their acquittals.
- Homage: Ann Reinking's performance in the 1995 revival had her imitating Gwen Verdon's speaking style.
- Humans Are Bastards: The opening line makes this trope perfectly clear.
- Humble Pie: Roxie is acquitted, but 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!")
- "I Am" Song:
- "When You're Good To Mama" for Mama.
- "All I Care About Is Love" for Billy. Played with in that most- if not all- of what he professes about himself in it is Blatant Lies.
- "Mr. Cellophane" for Amos.
- To a lesser extent, "Roxie" for Roxie and "All That Jazz" for Velma
- I Gave My Word: Billy promises that anyone who pays him five thousand dollars will get his full services. Even though Amos only comes up with two thousand dollars, Billy takes Roxie's case on the pretense of being a "straight man". (It's actually because he thinks Roxie's reputation will earn the rest of the money.) All of his clients in the play get off the hook.
- Implausible Deniability:
- June's solo in "Cell Block Tango":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?"
- June's solo in "Cell Block Tango":
- Institutional Apparel
- Ironic Hell: In the end, it's implied while Roxie and Velma despise each other, they depend on each other to be rich and famous.
- It's All About Me: Roxie. Velma, too, to a less obtrusive extent.
- "I Want" Song: "Roxie"
- Jerkass Has a Point: While Billy is definitely a villain who doesn't care if his clients are innocent or guilty, he tells Roxie that she can't sail on her fame when there's a real chance she can get convicted so she should play by his rules.
- Karma Houdini: Velma, Roxie, and Billy Flynn. Meanwhile, inverted in that Hunyak gets executed for a crime she didn't commit.
- "I Know A Girl" is a song about being a Karma Houdini.Velma: But what that mouse sells, the whole world buys, and no one smells a rat!
- "I Know A Girl" is a song about being a Karma Houdini.
- Keep It Foreign: In the Hungarian production, the Hunyak was replaced by Cheng Li, a Chinese inmate who spoke untranslated Chinese during "Cell Block Tango".
- Knitting Pregnancy Announcement: Roxie allows herself to be seen knitting baby clothes as part of her fake pregnancy sympathy ploy.
- Language Barrier: Hunyak, a young Hungarian woman, doesn't speak English. It gets her executed for a murder which she did not commit.
- Laughing Mad: Jeremy Jordan's take on June in the Miscast performance.
- Lovable Rogue: Roxie's a lying, scheming, glory-seeking, Jerkass murderess but still manages to be endearing at several points. Ditto for Velma and Billy.
- Madness Mantra: The refrain of "Cell Block Tango" — "Pop, six, squish, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz..."
- Malicious Misnaming:
- 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.
- Manslaughter Provocation: "Cell Block Tango" basically consists of them. How justified you are supposed to consider the cases, and how sincere the murderers are is... debatable.
- 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.)
- Morality Pet: Hunyak is the only inmate that Mama helps without bribes. It's implied that Mama knows that Hunyak is innocent, and she knows that everyone else in Murderess Row is guilty.
- Mythology Gag: Velma makes her entrance in the 1996 revival in the exact same way as the snake did in The Little Prince. She really is a snake in the grass!
- 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!"
- Only Sane Man: On Murderess Row, only the matron has all of her marbles together as Velma and Roxie bicker and the other inmates smoke and drink. Mama has to remind June that her husband is dead, since June murdered him. June gets a relieved expression when she remembers (particularly since, if she was telling the truth, he was abusive).
- Pet the Dog:
- 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.
- Depending on the actress playing the role she even shows signs of remorse and affection for Hunyak as she helps prepare her for her execution proving her capable of compassion and humanity.
- Police Are Useless: Subverted at the beginning of the play. The police interrogate Amos about what happened, while checking Fred Casely's wallet to identify him. Then when Amos reveals that it was Roxie who shot Fred Casely and lied to Amos, they immediately take Roxie into custody. Played straight for the rest of the show, since the police are up against Billy when testifying against Roxie.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Matron Mama Morton smuggles luxury goods like hair products and cigarettes into the prison. Why? The women there pay her to do it. She's making a fortune, ethics be damned.
- Similarly, Billy Flynn is also only in the game for cash—he'll play any angle, go to any length, and take any risk if it means a bigger payday for himself.
- Quirky Girl, Quirky Tux: In the original production Velma wears a tux and tights for the "All That Jazz" number. Velma has just murdered her sister (and Velma's husband, for sleeping with Veronica), meaning she's now a star rather than co-star. "Now I'm no one's wife but, how I love my life!"
- Refuge in Audacity: "Razzle Dazzle" is practically a hymn to getting away with murder through liberal use of outrageous stunts.
- The Reveal: Mary Sunshine is revealed to be a guy in drag, which is why the credits will list the actor with only their first initial, such as D. Sabella.
- Revenge Ballad: "Cell Block Tango" is the combined Revenge Ballad for the "Six Married Murderesses of the Cook County Jail", who all (but one) murdered their husbands or lovers and explain how and why here.All: He had it coming, he had it coming
He took a flower in its prime!
And then he used it; and he abused it
It was a murder, but not a crime!
- Sinister Tango Music: "The Cellblock Tango" is a Villain Song sung by the female prisoners about their motives for committing murder.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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 and Mama Morton) is like this. Even Billy Flynn gets his share — one of his numbers is a striptease.
- Take That!:
- 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.
- Alternately, Mary Sunshine from the original play was a parody of the "sob sisters" that provided extremely sympathetic portrayals of the murderers for Hearst-owned papers. Maurine Dallas Watkins, known for her scathing statements about the murderers and dislike of the media circus surrounding them, provided an alternate to the "sob sisters." It is speculated that later in life she began to feel she was just as guilty in the acquittals as they were.
- In the end, the whole "we couldn't have done it without you" bit is this.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The finale with Velma and Roxie.
- 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 "Cell Block Tango" who did not commit the murder she was accused of, is the only person we see found guilty and executed.
- The Trickster: Roxie and Billy Flynn.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: "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.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Amos and Roxie, most of the time. And he knows it too.
- The Unfair Sex: Played both ways, but with tongue firmly in cheek.
- Unreliable Narrator: The cellmates in "Cell Block Tango" are jaundiced accounts, at best.
- Unsettling Gender Reveal: Mary Sunshine is really a man. "Things are not always what they appear to be."
- The Vamp: Most of the female characters.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Of Beulah Annan.
- Villain Protagonist: Roxie is well-known to the audience to be guilty of murder and is generally a poor example of a human being.
- Villain Song: Considering how nearly everyone in the cast (aside from Amos and Mary) can be deemed a villain, theres plenty to go around.
- Velma and the murdresses get the first one in "Cell Block Tango", explaining why they killed their victims.
- Roxie has hers in the self-titled "Roxie", where she explains how her desire for attention and fame is what drives her.
- Billy explains his Amoral Attorney attitude with such blatant dishonesty that it wraps around to honesty again in "All I Care About is Love".
- Mama Morton describes her corrupt ways and possible lesbian affairs with her prisoners during "When You're Good To Mama".
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Mary Sunshine.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: If what Mama Morton says about her is true, Hunyak is this. It doesn't end well for her.
- Mary Sunshine is the only character in a position of power who wields her influence for altruistic, if naive, purposes. She spins criminal's stories to portray them in a positive light because she believes there's a bit of good in everyone. This makes her Billy's most reliable (and unknowing) pawn in getting Roxie acquitted.
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. 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.