VINTAGE PLAYBILL: Chicago, Starring Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, 1975
By Brynn Cox
On this date in 1975, Chicago premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street (now Richard Rodgers) Theatre.
The musical featured music and lyrics from Cabaret collaborators John Kander and Fred Ebb. Bob Fosse, a recent Tony winner for Pippin, directed and choreographed. Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon led the cast as Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, respectively, and Jerry Orbach played Billy Flynn.
New York Times reviewer Clive Barnes applauded the lead actors for "superlative, knock-em-in-the-aisles performances by three stars who glitter like gold dust" but found the material questionable. "A comedy melodrama of a girl who shoots her lover," he wrote, "and is then acquitted through the chicaneries of the Chicago criminal system—you can only wonder who ever thought it was suitable for a musical."
The production received 11 Tony nominations, but won zero; competitor A Chorus Line took home nine awards that year. The show went on to play 936 performances.
Two decades later, Chicago returned to the same stage and a very different reception. The musical Clive Barnes deemed "cynical" and "caustic" earned critical and popular acclaim, winning six Tonys including Best Revival of a Musical. The hit revival is currently playing its 16th year on Broadway.
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