As a new resident of the United States, growing up in India, I dreamed of being able to attend Broadway shows and learn more about the culture because it’s music that connects people from different cultural backgrounds. Even in India, my wife and I knew many of the songs that are part of Chicago the Musical, and I am delighted to report that the musical is as sexy, playful, and fun as it promised.
It’s incredible that Chicago is 47 years young and has played countless productions worldwide. It’s also an unexpected treat to learn more about the history of America and Chicago. For example, in the 1920s, Chicago was run by cold-blooded gangsters, a time that jazz was the most popular type of music and drinking was a crime. What an exciting way to explore debauchery, decadence, and organized crime in a time in American history that pokes fun at the corrupt justice system and how being a criminal was the first “celebrity.”
It’s hard not to empathize with chorus girl Roxie Hart which I learned was based on an actual person, Beulah Annan. She shot her lover when he tried to end their affair. Of course, she wants to avoid the death penalty and hires Chicago’s most successful criminal lawyer, Billy Flynn, to help her convince her stupid and love-sick husband, Amos, and the world that she’s innocent. In the bargain, she becomes a media fixture catching newspaper headlines.
While in jail, she meets the infamous Velma Kelly, a character who, I learned, is loosely inspired by Belva Gaertner, who murdered her husband and sister when she caught them having sex but claims she blacked out and has no memory of the brutal events. Inside the big house, the woman to make friends with is Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. She happily accepts bribes from the girls who want media recognition; she’s helping Velma with her acquittal and a dream to return to the vaudeville stage where she used to appear with her sister. Fame is fleeting, especially when it’s earned for being infamous, and Velma loses the limelight when Roxie arrives. Then the competition sparks with both more concerned with promoting themselves than facing the reality of imprisonment or the death penalty. Eventually, they wake up, combine their passion and needs, and bond for a rousing finale.
Lastly, my fellow Indian countrymen and women love musicals, and I highly recommend this wonderfully directed, timeless story of lust, corruption, murder, adultery, jealousy, greed, duplicity, and exploitation. There is a reason this is the second longest-running show ever in Broadway history, behind Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. And that reason is that it’s good, and you leave the theater humming a few songs that still are swirling inside my brain.
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