According to Fred Ebb, he wrote the book in a vaudeville style because "the characters were performers. Every musical moment in the show was loosely modeled on someone else: Roxie was Helen Morgan, Velma was Texas Guinan, Billy Flynn was Ted Lewis, Mama Morton was Sophie Tucker." Kander elaborates that the reason the show was called a vaudeville "is because many of the songs we wrote are related to specific performers like those you mentioned, and Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams as well."
It was through the initial production, and not the writing, that many of the "traditional" Chicago staging conventions were developed:
The double snap in "Razzle Dazzle" was added as an afterthought at the suggestion of Fred Ebb to John Kander. Kander explains: "I remember when we wrote "Razzle Dazzle", before we took it in and played it for Bob, you [Ebb] said with absolute confidence 'Try adding a couple of finger snaps to it. Bobby will love that.' We added them...and as soon as he heard the finger snaps, he loved the song." During rehearsals, "Razzle Dazzle" was originally staged as an orgy on the steps of the courthouse. Fosse was talked out of allowing this staging, when Jerry Orbach "convinced him that he was missing the Brechtian subtlety intrinsic in the number."
The original finale was "Loopin' the Loop", a doubles act with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera; however, "the scene seemed too much like an amateur act so Fosse asked for something more 'glamorous in pretty gowns'". The piece was cut and replaced with "Nowadays". Sections of "Loopin' the Loop" can still be heard in the Overture. Two other sections termed "Keep It Hot" and "RSVP" were cut from the finale as well.
Another principal character was played by David Rounds and known simply as "The Agent," whose role was to exploit the notoriety of the prisoners for his own gain. He also served as the evening's M.C. This character's role and the song "Ten Percent" was cut, with the character folded into that of Matron Mama Morton, and various members of the chorus shared his emcee duties.
In a reversal of roles, Fosse decided the lyrics to the number "Class" were too offensive and censored Kander and Ebb's original version of the song. One of the original lyrics "Every guy is a snot/Every girl is a twat" was restored for the 2002 movie, although the entire number was cut from the final release of the movie.
Original Broadway production
Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville opened on June 3, 1975 at the 46th Street Theatre, and ran for a total of 936 performances, closing on August 27, 1977. The opening night cast starred Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly, Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart, Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn and Barney Martin as Amos Hart. Velma Kelly had been a comparatively minor character in all versions of Chicago prior to the musical rendering. The role was fleshed out to balance Chita Rivera's role opposite Gwen Verdon's Roxie Hart.
The musical received mixed reviews. The Brechtian style of the show, which frequently dropped the fourth wall, made audiences uncomfortable. According to James Leve, "'Chicago' is cynical and subversive, exploiting American cultural mythologies in order to attack American celebrity culture."
The show opened the same year as Michael Bennett's highly successful A Chorus Line, which beat out Chicago in both ticket sales and at the Tony Awards. The show was on the verge of closing, when it ran into another setback: Gwen Verdon had to have surgery on nodes in her throat after inhaling a feather during the show's finale. The producers contemplated closing the show, but Liza Minnelli stepped in and offered to play the role of Roxie Hart in place of Verdon. Her run lasted a month, boosting the show's popularity, and Gwen Verdon recuperated and returned to the show. Later during the run, Ann Reinking, who would go on to star in the highly successful 1996 revival and choreograph that production in the style of Bob Fosse, was also a cast replacement for Roxie Hart during the show's original run.
1979 West End
The first West End, London production opened at the Cambridge Theatre in April 1979 and ran for around 600 performances. It starred Jenny Logan as Velma Kelly and Antonia Ellis as Roxie Hart. Ellis (Actress of the Year in a Musical) and Ben Cross (Actor of the Year in a Musical) were nominated for the Olivier Award for their performances, and the musical was nominated as Musical of the Year.
1996 Broadway revival
City Center Encores! series presented Chicago in May 1996. The series had been previously used exclusively to bring attention to older, more obscure musicals that might have otherwise been forgotten. The production was directed by Walter Bobbie with choreography "in the style of Bob Fosse" by Ann Reinking, who also starred as Roxie Hart. Also in the show was Bebe Neuwirth as Velma Kelly, Joel Grey as Amos Hart and James Naughton as Billy Flynn. Performers were holding scripts and the choreography was sometimes unpolished. The show was well-received, with Howard Kissel, reviewing for the New York Daily News writing that "This 'Chicago' impressed me far more than the original.". Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times, wrote " 'Make love to the audience' was another Fosse dictum. That's exactly what Ms. Reinking and her ensemble do. 'Chicago' can still seem glibly cynical and artificially cold, especially in its weaker second act. But these performers know just how to take off the chill." By May 10, 1996, there was talk of a Broadway production: "Down the block, there is a move afoot to move the Encores production of "Chicago" to Broadway. Rocco Landesman said that he and Fran and Barry Weissler wanted to bring the production to the Martin Beck Theater this summer."
Barry and Fran Weissler brought the concert version of Chicago, now titled Chicago: The Musical, directly to Broadway, where it opened on November 14, 1996, with a new script by David Thompson. The show set a record for recovering its initial costs faster than any other musical in history. This is likely due to the stripped down nature of the show: the set is nothing more than a giant bandstand, and the costumes are minimalist and black.
Unlike its predecessor Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, Chicago: The Musical was met with praise from audiences and critics alike. Society had changed in light of events such as the O. J. Simpson murder case, and audiences were more receptive to the criminal-as-celebrity theme of the show.
Chicago: The Musical won six Tony Awards, more than any other revival in Broadway history until being beat out by South Pacific which won seven, winning for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Bebe Neuwirth, Best Leading Actor in a Musical for James Naughton, Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Ken Billington, Best Director of a Musical for Walter Bobbie and Best Choreography for Ann Reinking. While still married to Verdon, Fosse also romanced Reinking, who eventually took over the role of Roxie when Verdon left the show. Reinking reprised this role in the 1996 revival, when she was 46.
Chicago: The Musical has run for over 5,400 performances as of January 10, 2010 and holds the record for longest-running musical revival on Broadway. Chicago is currently the fourth longest-running Broadway show ever. During its run, the show has played in three Broadway theatres - the Richard Rodgers Theatre (the same theatre where the original 1975 production played, at the time called the 46th Street Theatre), the Shubert Theatre and the Ambassador Theatre. The Grammy Award winning cast recording of the revival was released on January 28, 1997. The show currently features Tony Yazbeck (Billy Flynn), Chris Sullivan (Amos), Carol Woods (Matron "Mama" Morton), Kara DioGuardi (Roxie), and Amra-Faye Wright (Velma). Among the many other performers and celebrities who have appeared in the show during its long run are Usher, Michael C. Hall, Jerry Springer, Brooke Shields, Kevin Richardson, Melora Hardin, Rita Wilson, Melanie Griffith, Taye Diggs, Chandra Wilson, John O'Hurley, Ashlee Simpson, Leigh Zimmerman, Samantha Harris, Marilu Henner, Jeff McCarthy, Christie Brinkley, and Sofía Vergara.
1997 London revival
On November 18, 1997, Chicago: The Musical opened in London's West End. Like the New York revival, it is directed by Walter Bobbie and designed by John Lee Beatty, with choreography by Ann Reinking in the style of Bob Fosse. The show ran at the Adelphi Theatre for nine years until transferring to the Cambridge Theatre in April 2006.
The original cast of the production included German jazz singer, Ute Lemper as Velma, British actress Ruthie Henshall as Roxie Hart, Nigel Planer as Amos Hart and Henry Goodman as Billy Flynn. The production won the 1998 Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical, and Lemper was awarded Best Actress in a Musical. Both Ute Lemper and Ruthie Henshall have played the role of Velma Kelly on Broadway to great acclaim.
The London production, like its Broadway counterpart, has featured many acclaimed international celebrities and actors in the starring roles. For example, Marti Pellow, David Hasselhoff, John Barrowman, Tony Hadley, Jerry Springer, Kevin Richardson, and Ian Kelsey have all played the role of Billy Flynn since 2002. Maria Friedman, Josefina Gabrielle, Denise Van Outen, Claire Sweeney, Linzi Hateley, Frances Ruffelle, Jennifer Ellison, Jill Halfpenny, Brooke Shields, Sally Ann Triplett, Bonnie Langford, Tina Arena, Ashlee Simpson, Aoife Mulholland, Michelle Williams, and Christie Brinkley have all played Roxie Hart since 1998. Williams was the first African American woman to play the part of Roxie on the West End stage. There is also a professional touring cast of the musical.
The revival closed at the Cambridge Theatre on August 27, 2011 in its 14th year and will re-open at the Garrick Theatre on 7 November 2011, starring America Ferrera as Roxie.