Chicago, the Tony Award-winning musical rife with scandalous stories of celebrity criminals in the Prohibition-era, is coming to Victoria for the first time.
The toe-tapper first opened on Broadway in 1975, torn from the pages of the 1926 play written by journalist and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins.
A reporter for the Chicago Tribune in the early 1920s, Watkins was asked to cover the beat of women imprisoned at Cook County Jail who had murdered men. The true stories of accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner whose high-profile cases sent the press into a whirlwind set against the changing tide of women’s rights in the jazz age, gave way to Watkins’ characters Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart.
Henry Kolenko, of Broadway Victoria, has worked with the production in Calgary, New York and Vancouver and is excited to bring it to the Royal Theatre in his hometown.
“[Chicago] is all about journalism and isn’t it ever prevalent today,” he muses.
“It’s amazing to sort of see the parallels between what Trump does with the media, chasing these headlines and not ever getting down to the meaningful stuff.”
“No wonder it’s still on Broadway, it’s timeless,” Kolenko says. The show’s universal appeal, he adds, is the way it cuts through borders, exposing the ways people can be manipulated to believe things that aren’t true through the “razzle dazzle of smoke and mirrors.”
Victoria audiences will be treated to a stripped-down staging of the production, based on the Barry and Fran Weissler version that returned to Broadway in 1996. Kolenko says American audiences initially hesitated to embrace the dark cynicism of the story in the 1970s. But its relevance returned in the 1990s after the impact of the O.J. Simpson trial – a celebrity acquitted of murder.
In the 20 years since, the show has continuously run in New York, and toured in Japan, Russia and Latin America. Kelly and Hart have now pleaded their case to over 22 million people in 24 countries.
Chicago is now the longest-running American show on Broadway, was the longest running American production to be staged in London’s west end, and the story has been adapted three times (1927, 1942 and 2002) for film.
Of this version of the production, Kolenko says the simplicity lends itself to portray the incredible talent of the actors, the Bob Fosse-inspired choreography and the stellar script and score.
“That’s why this endures,” he says of the story. “It’s not something going in and out of fashion.”
Chicago runs Dec. 18 to 23 at the Royal Theatre. Tickets are available starting today (Oct. 27) at 10 a.m. at the Royal and McPherson theatre box offices or online at rmts.bc.ca.