A history of Broadway's hit musical Chicago

  • October 1, 2018
  • Theatre in Paris exclusives
  • Rupert Comer

Chicago Musical

The rich history behind one of Broadway's longest-running shows

Telling the tale of two aspiring vaudevillians and murderesses, the musical Chicago transports its audience to the roaring twenties, when Jazz ruled and the lines between crime and celebrity became more and more blurred. One of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time, it is well worth a plunge into its near century-long history on the occasion of its return to Paris at Théâtre Mogador. From real-life murder stories to an Academy Award winning film, the tale behind this celebrated show does not disappoint.

Theatre Mogador salle Paris

Théâtre Mogador, Paris, where a new adaptation of Chicago is being performed.

Real Chicago murders

The Chicago we know and love today is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter and dramatist Maurine Dallas Watkins. Watkins based her show on her experiences working for The Chicago Tribune in 1924, covering the trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Both were accused of murdering their lovers and both were acquitted. Their stories were sensationalised in the press, sparking public debate, with many sympathising with the attractiveness and plight of the two defendants. All of this took place against a backdrop of the Jazz age’s changing views of women and the growing worship of the celebrity criminal.

Chicago murder trial headline

Beulah Annan’s acquittal didn’t quite make the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday headline.

1975 show

Watkins later became a born-again Christian and renounced the debauchery and scandalous lifestyle that her play glamorised. The rights could therefore only be acquired upon her death in 1969, at which point John Kander and Fred Ebb began working on a musical score for the show, joined by Bob Fosse who provided the choreography. Taking inspiration from jazz and vaudeville, the musical ran from 1975 until 1977. Although not a huge success, Chicago received nominations for several Tony Awards and was even brought to the West End in 1979, where it ran for 600 performances.  

Chicago originl cast
Bob Fosse

The original cast of the 1975 Chicago musical                                                 The choreographer of the original Chicago musical

Revival and film

It was not until its 1996 revival that Chicago would really take off. The second longest-running show in Broadway history, it continues to play today at the Ambassador Theatre, a site built by the Shubert family, who managed half of Broadway’s theatres in the 1940s. It was also adapted into a hugely successful film in 2002, starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Winning six academy awards, it was the first musical to grab Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968.  

Ambassador theatre

Broadway's Chicago today

Chicago’s film adaptation may have been a hit, but the best way to experience the roaring twenties is to watch the musical live in the theatre. Having recently debuted at Théâtre Mogador in Paris’ bustling 9th arrondissement, the show will be running until the end of January 2019. With music and dialogue in French, and surtitles in English, the show provides a real taste of Parisian theatre, in a beautiful setting. Théâtre Mogador is renowned for producing classic broadway shows with a French twist and its majestic gold auditorium  inspired by the English music hall style is sure to impress.

Don’t miss out on this spectacular musical!

Get your tickets today!.

Chicago Paris cast

Cast of the Parisian adaptation of Chicago at Théâtre Mogador