Hi everyone! I saw my first musical of 2017! That honor went to Chicago the Musical! I am not doing a full movie vs. musical review today but I will reference the movie at times.
Up until last weekend, I had only ever seen the movie and YouTube clips of tv performances from the casts. I knew I would love it though, and I was excited.
Originally I was going to go with my mom and sister, however my parents went to Georgia for a family party and visit, so I invited a friend from work who lives near Milwaukee. Last year the musical was in the city of Chicago, and it would have been great to see it there, but I had tickets and plans for that weekend. (It was only there for a week or so I believe.) Luckily I can get to Milwaukee easily enough so I bought tickets there when I had the chance.
It was a rainy day, but it wasn’t so bad and we were there super early. We met up with my friend and we stood around a bit. My friend got a sandwich and we chatted about work for a bit (my poor sister!) and then chatted about Ravinia (a park with outdoor music performances all summer) and other shows we wanted to see. Our department has had a flurry of activity recently so we did have quite a bit to say on that. Eventually we headed to our seats when the house opened.
We settled in and since I knew both of my companions well I got the middle seat. My friend and I eventually settled into a friendly banter of politics. She’s a firm Republican and I’m a firm Democrat so we had a lot to say! We are both very open minded and love to talk politics so it’s not like it was a heated debate, I feel that people often lose sight of the real goal of talking about these topics, which is to learn another person’s opinion and understand where they’re coming from even if you don’t agree. My poor sister doesn’t enjoy politics as we do though so we eventually switched back to musicals and other less polarizing topics.
Oh, I should mention the theatre. We were in the Marcus Center for Performing Arts. It’s a beautiful theatre and I’m always in the orchestra section at that theatre, oddly enough as I’m never in the orchestra in Chicago! It’s a lot more affordable in Milwaukee though. What I usually pay for orchestra in Milwaukee is what I pay for seats in the mezz in Chicago. Unfortunately the usher was quite strict and wouldn’t allow photos of the stage, so please enjoy this very yellow photo of when I saw Book of Mormon at the same theatre last year. I believe it’s a few rows back from where we were last weekend, but pretty close. We were also a bit closer to the center but not by much, maybe one or two seats.
Because this theatre has very long rows with no aisles I select seats closer to the right side. The bathroom is closer and it’s just easier to get out from. I’m a person who plans for the “just in case” situations in life so that’s my reasoning for not being in the center.
Onto the musical! Going forward I’m assuming everyone has seen the movie at least, but possibly both. There won’t be huge, huge spoilers for the stage adaptation but I will be talking about some of the differences though.
It was amazing! I surprised myself by being surprised and excited when “All That Jazz” started. I somehow was caught off guard when the music started. I absolutely love this song and I was so happy to finally see the choreography in real life! It was a breathtaking experience. Bob Fosse’s choreography is amazing and incredible to see.
Another surprise was that the orchestra is actually on stage, seated in a really cool structure where they are raised on the stage. The structure has an opening in the middle where the actors will sometimes enter or exit the stage. Otherwise they enter/exit on the sides towards the back of the stage. I thought they didn’t enter or exit through the sides on the front of the stage that often.
It’s a very simple staging, most of the show is the dancing. The last musical I saw was Phantom of the Opera and comparing how complex the set is for that show to how simple this one is, it’s astounding. All shows are so different! There are ladders that fold in and out of each side and used for certain numbers.
Costumes are also the same as the staging, simple and there aren’t many costume changes. When the characters are on trial they put a blazer on but otherwise they’re in their same costumes for the most part.
The first portion of Act 1 moved very quickly. A brief introduction followed by “All That Jazz”, “Funny Honey”, and “Cell Block Tango” all introducing the story. There’s little dialogue here and the songs were done beautifully. When Mama comes out “When You’re good to Mama” we have a good sense of the story and the characters already. Velma Kelly is set up as the older, veteran performer, eager to get all the publicity she can to get bigger and grander bookings. Roxie Hart is bored of her married life and is unsure how to overcome this setback, but determined to come out a success.
Unlike in the movie, Roxie and Amos’ relationship is explored in “A Tap Dance” as she tried to convince Amos to get her a good lawyer. I will say that the movie did very much focus on the big, flashy numbers. The songs in the musical that are not in the movie are simple and not as impressive but did such a good job painting the picture that the movie was able to show with a new set.
Billy Flynn’s character and actor were amazing. In “All I Care About Is Love” you would believe that Billy really does love, well, love. Then in his next scene where he meets Roxie and when he talks to Amos about payment he is all about the money. But he does accept her case on a merchandise sales payment plan for Roxie themed merch and he takes her life story and makes changes to appeal to the press and Mary Sunshine in “A Little Bit of Good”.
Mary Sunshine’s character is very, very different in the musical than in the movie. She has a bigger role overall and is very much the ringleader of the press rather than a representative that she seems to be in the movie. Because of this we see Mary and get to know her happy and excitable character much better than in the movie. In “We Both Reached for the Gun” she is eager to accept Roxie’s “story” and sympathize with her.
Here is the moment when I really wished I had been in Chicago instead of Milwaukee. Roxie celebrates her moment in the limelight by holding up newspapers with headlines all about her… and the city of Chicago! I bet that would have gotten a good response from the audience in Chicago but in Milwaukee? Silence. Ah well. Maybe next time.
Here Roxie’s ambition really comes alive in “Roxie” as she reads the articles and lets her imagination run away with them. Velma watches jealously and desperately tries to attach her star to Roxie’s rising fame by proposing that Roxie join her sister act, now that Velma’s sister is deceased in “I Can’t Do It Alone”. These two are very similar to their movie counterparts. They’re not my favorite and Velma’s song here is actually quite boring to me, especially onstage.
These two songs lead into a musical only section. Both Roxie and Velma now have to confront the newest criminal that joins their rank and pretty much steals their spotlight in “Midnight in Chicago”. Velma tries to convince Billy to focus on her court date and is dismayed to hear it’s been pushed back. She desperately tries to explain she’s prepared and has a plan but is drowned out. Roxie tries to convince the press that they want to pay attention to her rather than the newcomer but they brush her aside. The two of them are now fighting for not only the press and Billy but also the audience’s attention. Now all we want to know about is the new criminal in the block. In “My Own Best Friend” the pair pull the spotlight back to each of them and Roxie decides to tell everyone she’s pregnant for attention. And it works! Roxie’s “act first, think later” personality comes out on top, much to Velma’s chagrin.
At this point the intermission started and I ran off to the bathroom. The bathrooms are very small downstairs and there are larger bathrooms upstairs but because my seat was close to the end of the row I was able to get in line fairly early. I still had a pretty long wait though. Intermission is pretty long at this theatre, or at least it feels that way, and I’m sure that the bathroom situation has a lot to do with it.
My friend and my sister chatted while I went to the bathroom and when I returned they were the best of friends already. My sister had actually seen this show already on Broadway during a high school trip to New York City, so she kinda went over a few of her thoughts on how different they were. Oh, my friend also admitted she hadn’t known the parking garage was cash only and got to park for free! So lucky!!!
The lights started signaling the end of intermission and everyone started coming back to their seats. Even so, the theatre seemed to be waiting for people as they kept doing this with increasing frequency. Very different from the theatres in Chicago, as people didn’t have time to even get back in the theatre if they were still standing outside once the lights dimmed.
Velma and Roxie open the second act with Velma calling out Roxie’s bluff in “I Know a Girl” and Roxie sticking to her story “Me and My Baby”. Velma is on the ladder on the side and is pushed away at the end of the song and Roxie is taken to have her pregnancy confirmed. From here the musical goes pretty quickly. In “When Velma Takes the Stand” we finally see Velma get Billy’s attention and she tries to plead her case to get her court date back. Ultimately the plan fails as Velma isn’t very commanding towards the other characters. It’s so strange to consider because she dominates the audience’s attention but can’t keep Billy’s, the press, etc. It is clear that Velma is meant for the stage.
Roxie comes back onstage, full of confidence. Here Roxie’s ego has grown exponentially. She’s seen Velma fail in reviving interest in herself yet Roxie was resourceful and bold enough to take it back. Billy tries to keep control of his client in order to win the case but Roxie is emboldened and fights him on each of his instructions. They fight and Roxie fires him, just in time to see one of her prison mates hanged for her supposed crime, despite that she’s the only truly innocent one.
Now Roxie is forced to come out of the bubble she’s created for herself. She’s spent this entire time focusing on how this situation can make her famous and has lost sight of the real goal, earning her freedom and avoiding the maximum penalty. I thought Roxie’s actress performed this beautifully. Honestly I thought Roxie’s actress was a bit too silly for most of the performance. Roxie is meant to be portrayed as young, ambitious, and wild in order for us to see her priorities as natural and then be brought back down with her as she realizes the gravity of the situation. Roxie and the audience is told various times that there has never been a woman hanged in Chicago and it’s unlikely but then it happens and it could happen to Roxie.
Billy returns to represent Roxie once again and while she clearly does not like his ideas anymore than she previously did she accepts them. “Razzle Dazzle” is my favorite song of the musical and it blew me away. Billy is coaching Roxie to dazzle the court but he truly dazzles the crowd.
I was still amazed by the previous number when another great one came up. Velma and Mama sing a truly classless song “Class” when Roxie steals all of Velma’s ideas about how no one has any class anymore. This was a song that I really liked that isn’t included in the movie.
I’m going to backtrack a bit here as I find it hilarious that I completely skipped over “Mister Cellophane”! This song is performed after Roxie announces she’s pregnant and Amos is excited to have a child. However everyone ignores him, namely the press, and he feels that he is never seen or heard. Proposing all sorts of different scenarios in which he should be seen but likely wouldn’t be, he sadly slinks off stage. I had liked this song a lot but my sister said she was underwhelmed because the NYC performance she saw had been so good that this fell flat for her. I really wish I’d seen that one then since I find this song hilarious!
Back to the trial. I’ll compare the film and the stage production here. The film shows Velma reading from Roxie’s diary and the other lawyer is framed for fabricating evidence. This didn’t play a part in the musical, and starting here the movie draws out the rest of the story. In the musical Roxie instead gives a very dramatic interpretation of the events of the night when she shot Fred.
Once she’s done the trial ends before the verdict is even fully announced, as an unnamed female is reported to have shot her husband and lawyer outside. This also occurs in the movie. Everyone in the room rushes out in both versions and they leave Roxie, Billy, and Amos behind. In the movie Billy explains that fame is fleeting, admits he is the one that tampered with evidence, and his actions have freed both Velma and Roxie in one trial. In the musical Billy is not quite so gentle with words as he tells a confused Roxie she’s free and dismisses her annoyance that no one cares about her anymore. He then leaves to find new clients to work with. As he exists in the musical the conductor plays his exit music per his request.
Amos approaches Roxie, eager to rebuild their lives with their child. In the movie Roxie is very rude to Amos as she reveals she made everything up to him and they break up. In the musical though Roxie is very much bewildered at the press’ actions as she had been expecting a huge photo shoot upon her release and she is distracted from Amos’ attempts at conversation with her. At last he manages to get out of her that she isn’t pregnant and he decides to leave her. As he exits he asks the conductor to play his exit music and in true “cellophane” fashion, the conductor doesn’t seem to notice Amos’ request.
The end from here is vastly different as well. In the movie, Roxie has become a vaudeville performer but is very unsuccessful and we see her go through a terrible audition. Velma approaches her and they eventually decide to work together. They put on a great show with other cast members in the audience clapping along, get a standing ovation, and then head off stage after their bows.
In the musical, she uses the same song “Nowadays” but she uses it to gather her thoughts and refocus on her goal for fame and success. She and Velma still end up as partners although we don’t see how this happens for “Hot Honey Rag” and are very successful together. The entire cast comes out for bows, get a standing ovation, and they exit the stage, all while the orchestra continues playing the audience out.
After the musical my sister and my friend both went for a bathroom break and we left the theatre. The rain had stopped but the sky was still grey and dark. We headed back to Illinois and my sister and I stopped for dinner (Buffalo Wild Wings, yum!) all the while talking about the musical.
My next musical isn’t until July and I’m already sad that I have to wait until then to see another musical. But it’ll be the start of my Broadway in Chicago subscription and I’m excited to see if it’s worth the money and commitment.
Let me know if you’ve seen this musical and, if so, what did you think? I hope you liked this review!
Also do let me know if you like seeing reviews on the musicals I’ve seen. I know it’s not the most common of hobbies, so I’m curious if my readers are interested in these posts.
Thanks for reading!