The national tour of the hit Broadway musical Chicago is coming to the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara for a raucous one-night stand at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The tour, like all of its predecessors, is based on the 1996 revival production of the musical, rather than on the original production of 1975. The 1975 production did pretty well, at 936 performances, but the 1996 production holds the record for the longest-running musical revival on Broadway — as of March 2, a staggering total of 4,684 performances.
Chicago the musical, created by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, is based on a 1926 play of the same name by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about two sensational murder trials, of Beulah Annan (model for the character Roxie Hart) and Belva Gaertner (model for Velma Kelly), which she had reported on for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins wrote herself into the play, under the name “Mary Sunshine.”
The play did well. The U.S. public in the 1920s had a boundless appetite for murderesses, and most of them got away with it. As Watkins was writing about Annan and Gaertner in the windy city, Edmund Wilson and others were writing about Drothy Perkins in New York. Chicago was made into a silent film in 1927, then into a talkie in 1942, Roxie Hart, with Ginger Rodgers.
Sometime in the late 1950s to early 1960s, the famous stage actress Gwen Verdon read the original play and asked her husband, Fosse, if there might be a musical in there. Fosse thought there was, and tried to get Watkins to sell the rights. She refused. When she died in 1969, Watkins, it turned out, had left instructions that the rights to Chicago be sold to Verdon and Fosse.
Fosse teamed up with Kander and Ebb, who began work on the score, modeling each number on a traditional vaudeville number or a vaudeville performer.
This format made explicit the show’s comparison between justice, show business and contemporary society. Ebb and Fosse wrote the “book” of the musical; Fosse directed and choreographed. The show opened June 3, 1975, which happened to coincide with the opening run of another musical, A Chorus Line, which swept the awards categories and drew bigger audiences. Nothing remotely competitive was on the horizon in 1996. Chicago had the field to itself.
For tickets, call the Arlington box office at 805.963.4408) or visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.