Thanks to strong reviews and the paucity of new musical competition so far this season, the Broadway revival of Kander & Ebb's Chicago, starring Joel Grey, Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton, sold over a $1 million in tickets in its opening weekend and will likely move from the Richard Rodgers Theatre to the larger Shubert house in February 1997.
A New York Post story by Ward Morehouse noted that as soon as the reviews for Chicago came out (leading to $6 million in advance sales, including $1 million worth of sales in the opening weekend), producers Fran and Barry Weissler raised top ticket prices on the show from $67.50 to $70. (Saturday night seats were always $70, now other nights will follow suit.) This apparently has struck some theatre insiders as greedy, since most consider the production an expanded version of the "Encores" concert staging, rather than a full Broadway-style mounting. In other words, producers are charging top Broadway prices for Off Broadway production values.
In other Chicago news, on Monday, Nov. 18, the show's performers went into the recording studio to make a cast album for RCA Victor. Release is tentatively scheduled for January 1997. The recording session went on past 2 AM, with many an Elaine Stritch joke told (a reference to the famous, all-night recording sessions for the Sondheim musical Company.
Directed by Walter Bobbie, Chicago, which opened Nov. 14, got ecstatic reviews as part of the Encores! series at the New York City Center in spring 1996. The show is an adaptation of the 1942 film, "Roxie Hart," and the 1927 Broadway play, also titled Chicago.
Ann Reinking choreographed this revival ("in the style of" the original, Bob Fosse) of the 1975 John Kander & Fred Ebb musical about a woman catapulted to fame and fortune when she becomes the subject of a sensationalistic murder trial. The 1975 musical tells the story of a young woman, Roxie Hart, who murders her lover, then uses the subsequent murder trial to build a career in showbiz. As directed by Bob Fosse (and recreated by Reinking) the musical uses the conventions of vaudeville to show how the legal system gets turned into a media circus. Though the show is set in the 1920s, resemblance to more recent legal carnivals is purely intentional.
The score includes "All That Jazz," "Class," "Mr. Cellophane" (here a solo for Joel Grey), and "Razzle-Dazzle."
When Chicago's limited run ends Feb. 9, the Rodgers has been booked for Kander & Ebb's new musical, Steel Pier. Chicago will then move to the Shubert, recently vacated by Big. Tickets are already on sale for the Shubert transfer. Large-scale musicals rarely make such transfers, owing to the prohibitive cost of load-out and load-in of the scenery, but, as mentioned above, this Chicago is being presented with minimal scenery.
The chaos in booking Broadway theatres results from a severe shortage of theatres for big musicals. Long-running shows like Cats and Les Miserables have held onto the most desirable ones, forcing new shows like Rent and Noise/Funk to open in theatres that previously had rarely seen bookings.
Theatres with 1400 seats or more have been snapped up with increasing ferocity, though few as quickly as the Shubert, which seats 1521, and which has been home to some of Broadway's biggest hits, including A Chorus Line and Crazy for You.
Two long-unused XL Broadway theatres on the new 42nd Street are currently being refurbished and are scheduled to come on line in 1997: Disney's New Amsterdam Theatre and Livent's yet-unnamed space that combines the old New Apollo and Lyric Theatres.
Tickets for the Rodgers Theatre Chicago can be ordered by calling (212) 307-4100 or (outside NY metro area) (800) 755-4000. For the Shubert Theatre run, please call (212) 239-6200 or outside NY metro area (800) 322-3123. For group sales in either venue, groups may contact Shubert Group Sales at (212) 239-6262 or toll-free 800-432-7780.