Wednesday, Oct. 23, marked the first public preview of Chicago, the Broadway revival of John Kander & Fred Ebb's 1975 musical. A half hour before the 8 PM performance was to begin, the local police precinct received a phone call threatening that a bomb would go off at its theatre, the Richard Rodgers on West 46th Street.
A member of the first-preview audience who did not wish to be identified told Playbill On-Line what struck him about the for-real fire drill was the calmness of the exit. "There was no panic at all. [Producer] Barry Weissler came onstage and said, `please take your belongings and file out,' and we did. We almost thought it was a joke until we saw the cast members come out, too."
The incident was like deja vu for the fellow quoted above, who also remembered when Chicago was at "Encores!" months ago and the second-act curtain was delayed half an hour when an audience member needed to be treated by paramedics.
After the audience resumed their seats at 8:30 PM, Weissler joked that the threat probably came from one of his colleagues, but the evening's most explosive laugh came, unintendedly, during Joel Grey's performance of the song, "Mr. Cellophane." When Grey sang the lyric -- "If someone at a picture show yelled `Fire!' in the second row, `this whole place is a powderkeg!', you'd notice him" -- the audience went crazy with laughter. (A jokey rumor even went around that Grey sang the line while staring directly at Weissler, but that is purely speculative.)
Asked by Playbill On-Line about the incident, Weissler simply joshed, "I knew I had a hot show, but this is ridiculous." Composer John Kander told press representatives at the Pete Sanders Group that the first preview of the original Chicago also ran into a snag -- at the same theatre (then called the 46th Street Theatre) -- when an elevator carrying Chita Rivera up to the stage broke down. That performance had to be canceled.