–By Jen Cunningham
Roxie Rocks St. Louis
That could very easily be the title of this review, but I decided for International Woman’s Day that I would delve a little bit deeper into not only this performance, but the women that made CHICAGO possible.
Friday night the Fabulous Fox Theatre and Curtain Call were bustling with excited theatre-goers, from all over, ready for the evening’s presentation of CHICAGO the Musical. Several of us gathered for cocktails at Curtain Call a smaller restaurant that is attached to The Fabulous Fox. It is no small secret that Jamie, from Curtain Call makes the best drinks in that city block.
I met people from Lake of the Ozarks, Philadelphia, Chicago and Indiana, all during that happy hour. To think that a Broadway show with more that 20 years under it’s belt, still draws that type of a crowd.
Is it the magic of Bob Fosse? Its possible…
There may be a more exciting back story that you don’t know…
Maurine Dallas Watkins was a student at George Pierce Baker’s playwriting workshop at Harvard University in the early 1920’s. Baker encouraged his students to pursue other writing experience in the real world. In early 1924, Maureen moved to Chicago to write for the Chicago Tribune.
She was only at the Chicago Tribune for 7 months, but during those months she covered murders but also the trials of Belva Gaertner, a cabaret singer, and Beulah Sheriff Annan. Watkins amusing, yet snarky, reporting focused on the cynical, and often ridiculous aspects of the cases, and also the interest by the media and the public. She referred to them as “jazz babies” claiming they were corrupted by men and liquor. She often referred to Beulah as “the beauty of the cell block” and Belva as “the most stylish of Murderess row”. Both women spent months and months in the press being covered by the 7 papers in Chicago at that time. Both were found not guilty, a verdict Watkins did not agree with.
Does any of this sound familiar? Even Billy Flynn was an actual lawyer. Actually hes a composite character based on William Scott Stewart and W. W. O’Brien.
The play CHICAGO, was actually an assignment Watkins wrote for Baker when she returned to study underneath him at Yale. (He transferred from Harvard) Originally the first copyrighted version was called Play Ball, the 2nd copyrighted post production script was titled CHICAGO. CHICAGO opened on Broadway December 30, 1926. The play ran for 172 performances and then toured for 2 years.
One last little fun fact: during the tour Mr. Cellophane was played by a then unknown Clark Gable (Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind).
In the 1960’s Gwen Verdon read the play and asked her husband, Bob Fosse, if the play could be adapted into a musical version. Watkins repeatedly turned down Fosse when he asked to buy the rights to Chicago. It wasn’t until her death in 1969, when the estate finally agreed to sell the rights to Fosse and the producers.
The original book was written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Music by John Kander.
In 1975 Ann Reinking played Roxie Hart under the direction of Bob Fosse and then reprised the role in the 1996 revival where she also earned a Tony Award for Best Choreography.
Reinking, a Broadway icon, is also pretty well known for her relationship with Fosse. Fosse’s active love life was a definite strain on his marriage. Separating in 1971 from wife Gwen Verdon, Fosse met Reinking during the production of Pippin. Where they began a 6 year love affair, where she was both protégé and muse. Reinking even plays a version of herself in the semi-autobiographical film about Fosse’s life called “All That Jazz”.
I think it will always be safe to say that love is COMPLICATED!! I think that maybe creatives are equip to live with a flexible version okay. The list of love and loss (and adaptation) is forever alive in the lives of creatives. (My life is no exception.) The art that flows from that complexity, is beautiful and often entertaining.
This vaudeville style spectacular has captivated audiences for over 20 years. This production was no exception. Terra C. MacLeod is Velma Kelly. Her role is cynical and hilarious. Dylis Croman is fantastic as Roxie Hart. Roxie definitely ROCKED St. Louis.
Matron Momma Morton was played by Jennifer Fouche. Her vocals were amazing. She brought down the house with her version of “When Your Good to Momma” and “Class” a duet she sings with MacLeod.
Other hits included “All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “Roxie”, “Razzle Dazzle”, and “Nowadays”.
Next up is The Color Purple March 20-April 1. Get your tickets from Metrotix.com or from the box office at The Fabulous Fox or by calling 314-534-1111.