Sunday, May 8, 2022

CHICAGO 2002

For me, the history of CHICAGO  has always been inextricably linked with that of A Chorus Line. CHICAGO premiered on Broadway June 3rd; 1975; A Chorus Line, six weeks later, on July 25th. CHICAGO opened to mixed reviews and struggled at the boxoffice; A Chorus Line was met with raves, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was nothing short of a cultural event. CHICAGO was nominated for 11 Tony Awards, won 0; A Chorus Line was nominated for 12, won 9.

CHICAGO and A Chorus Line also happen to be linked together in my memory. Certainly my memories of that day in August of 1975 when I went to The Grammophone, a gay-owned and operated record store on San Francisco's Polk Street, and purchased the Original Broadway Cast Recording LPs of both shows at the same time. Although I hadn't yet heard a single note from either score, I was so fired-up from consuming all the After Dark Magazine-fed hype surrounding the opening of each production (that invaluable, homoerotic, national entertainment magazine being my sole West Coast pipeline to what was happening on Broadway), that I was almost smug in my confidence that my two blind purchases were far from being a gamble. 
August 5, 1975 - $4.88 each
Both were single LPs in glossy gatefold jackets loaded with photos & liner notes
Unlike movies, new Broadway musicals don't pop up every Wednesday and Friday, so when one appeared on the horizon that interested me, it was a big event. The last Broadway cast recording I'd purchased was Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a musical meal I'd been dining out on since 1973. Having committed every note and melody of the splendid score to memory by then, I could scarcely believe my good fortune that 1975 held forth the promise of TWO major Broadway musical releases I could submerge myself in. 

At the time, all the smart money was on CHICAGO. The only familiar names to me from A Chorus Line were composer Marvin Hamlish, who then was all but unavoidable after his Oscar win for The Sting (1973), and director-choreographer Michael Bennett, who I came to know from reading the backs of the library-borrowed cast albums of Company and Follies. CHICAGO distinguished itself as the one with the Broadway heavy hitters and showbiz pedigree. It marked the Broadway musical return of Gwen Verdon (last seen in 1966’s Sweet Charity)! The professional reunion of husband & wife team Verdon & Fosse!  The reteaming of Fosse with his Cabaret and Liza with a Z collaborators, the composer-lyricist-writing duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb! And it was the first-time pairing of two genuine Broadway legends…Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera!
Illustration by Sam Norkin -1975
Wanting to start off with the “sure thing,” I listened to the CHICAGO album first, which turned into one of those rarer-than-rare occurrences where one’s extraordinarily high expectations are not only met, but exceeded. Hearing that incredible score for the first time...every single song a showstopper...not a clunker in the bunch...was such a thrill. The songs and their often hilarious lyrics set my imagination on fire... I could practically see the entire production in my head. I was instantly attracted to the storyline--the phoniness of show biz reflecting the phoniness of the American legal system. And if the cynicism at CHICAGO's core struck me as caustic and pessimistic, consider that I was just 17 at the time (sarcasm and snark are like crack to a teenager) and that it was the summer of '75. The summer that saw the dynamic downer duo of Nashville and The Day of the Locust released to movie theaters just weeks before. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. CHICAGO was simply riding the crest of the zeitgeist. 
May 6, 1976
That's Jane Fonda speaking at a Tom Hayden rally in Sacramento and 18-year-old me in this, the only photo I have of my beloved official CHICAGO T-shirt, which I wore for years until it disintegrated. A photo captured mere moments before Ms. Fonda graciously signed the Barbarella photo I've got secreted away in the Busby Berkeley Book tucked under my arm. The memo is an affirmative reply to a written request by yours truly to NY's 46th St. Theater inquiring as to the possibility of purchasing a CHICAGO T-shirt (mail order Broadway merchandise wasn't yet a thing). It cost a whopping $5 plus $1 shipping. 

I next listened to A Chorus Line, optimistically resigned to the certainty that it couldn’t possibly match my CHICAGO experience. Jump ahead several hours. Me on the floor in front of the family stereo, headphones on, in a theater geek's state of transcendence, eyes red and nose runny from listening to A Chorus Line three times in a row and bawling my eyes out. 
And there you have what was then, and continues to be, my essential relationship with CHICAGO and A Chorus Line. They're culturally joined at the hip. Iconic templates of a particular time and place in my life--I'd graduated high school in June, I'd been "out" to myself for about two years (4 more years to go for family), it was the summer of Jaws, it was the summer of my independence. And these two shows, listened to as routinely and relentlessly as though they were on a loop, were the soundtrack of my adult-adjacent freedom. 
June 7, 1976
I saw A Chorus Line when the National Company came to San Francisco's
 Curran Theater in May. Ever the autograph hound, my friend and I became
stage-door johnnies for the show's entire run

But CHICAGO was always the diamond…sharp, dazzling, and cold; while A Chorus Line was always the heart (a vision of Lauren Bacall singing "Hearts, Not Diamonds" in The Fan just popped into my head). To me, A Chorus Line was a dark, almost melancholy show... a Follies for theater gypsies...but unlike CHICAGO, it was humane. And that made listening to it a poignant and exhilarating experience—all goosebumps and waterworks. Each musical, reflecting as they did, opposite yet equally true faces of our culture (post-Watergate disillusionment & "Me" generation introspection), also appealed to the contrasting sides of my own nature. CHICAGO and A Chorus Line complemented one another. 
It wasn't until 1992 that I got the opportunity to see CHICAGO on stage for the first time. The Long Beach Civic Light Opera put on a fabulous, faithful-to-the-original production starring Juliet Prowse and Bebe Newerth, utilizing Tony Walton's original set designs, Patricia Zipprodt's costuming, and featuring two members of the original 1975 cast. It was astoundingly good. This perhaps accounts for why I was never very never fond of the pared-down, anachronistically Vegas-y look of CHICAGO’s phenomenally successful 1996 Broadway revival. An antipathy reinforced when I saw a 2012 production starring Christie Brinkley (by this point, stunt-casting was the only teeth the show had left).

Since 1975, A Chorus Line’s cultural grip has weakened a bit. Thanks to a monumentally mishandled 1985 movie adaptation, and the musical’s once-innovative confessional format feeling almost quaint in today’s climate of social media oversharing. Meanwhile, CHICAGO, a show once criticized for its relentlessly downcast gaze into life’s sewers, has hung around long enough for its down-in-the-gutter perspective (I hear Candy Darling in Women in Revolt "Too low for the dogs to bite!") to be exactly eye-level with what mainstream American culture has come to normalize, make viral, and elect.   

And something I thought for the longest time would never happen... after decades of false starts and rumors (Liza and Goldie! Goldie and Madonna!) and against impossible odds (non-animated movie musicals were believed to be a dead genre), CHICAGO, at last, made it to the big screen. Twenty-seven years after its debut on Broadway. 
Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly
Richard Gere as Billy Flynn
Queen Latifah as Matron Mama Morton
John C. Reilly as Amos Hart

CHICAGO, the Bob Fosse/Fred Ebb/John Kander musical vaudeville about two amoral, overaged, gin-soaked jazz babies on murderers’ row desperate to parlay their 15-minutes of criminal infamy into show biz careers, was made into a $45 million major motion picture. The director making his feature film debut? None other than Rob Marshall, the Tony Award-nominated choreographer-director of that 1992 Juliet Prowse/Bebe Neuwirth Long Beach production that knocked my socks off.  

It's impossible to overstate how excited I was that Friday morning in December of 2002 when my partner and I, returning home from a Christmas trip, stopped off at our place just long enough to drop off our luggage so we could hightail it to Century City and be among the first audience to see CHICAGO on its December 27th opening day in LA. By the time the film was over and anxious-looking marketing folks began handing out audience evaluation cards and pencils (the film wouldn’t open wide until the following month), I thought I had died and gone to stage-to-screen heaven. We were both so euphoric over what we’d just seen, after exiting the theater we swiftly got right back in line to see it again
Chita Rivera as Nickie
Broadway's original Velma Kelly makes a cameo appearance as a Cook County Jail inmate.
Her name is a nod to the character she played in Fosse's 1969 film, Sweet Charity.

Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon avoided several pitfalls from the outset by not trying to reimagine the show for the screen. Instead, they came up with a device (the musical numbers erupt out of Roxie’s fevered fantasies) that made the highly-stylized, stage-bound show more cinematic. Boasting spectacular cinematography, a sensational cast, and dazzling choreography, they succeeded in bringing the CHICAGO I loved to the screen. (It had been my gravest fear that the “Victoria’s Secret meets International Male” Broadway revival version of  CHICAGO was going to be the only surviving template for future generations.) 
The film went on to be a major boxoffice and critical hit, garnering a whopping 13 Oscar nominations that year, winning 6, among them Best Picture. CHICAGO revitalised the movie musical.
Taye Diggs as The Bandleader
Christine Baranski as Mary Sunshine

But writing this now in 2022, it's clear my once all-encompassing ardor for CHICAGO has cooled a bit over the years. After the dust of anticipation settled and I was able to breathe a sigh of relief that the screen adaptation wasn't a botch job like A Chorus Line: The Movie, only then did I notice that somewhere along its 27-year path to the screen, CHICAGO had become harmless.
When I look at CHICAGO today, the film's black comedy subtext targeting the institutional corruption of the media, penal system, politics, and law, doesn't hit nearly as hard as how sympathetically Roxi and Velma are portrayed. 
Gwen Verdon & Chita Rivera gave us a Roxie and Velma who were genuinely "...older than I ever intended to be." Their hunger for vaudeville fame was a last-gasp act of desperation after a lifetime of failure and rejection. The Roxie and Velma of the film are both so young and beautiful, that one is left with the impression that life has been unduly unfair to them. Throughout the film, each suffers so many humiliations, setbacks, and exploitations that by the finale, we truly forget (or have long stopped caring) that they are remorseless murderers. Instead of being made to feel complicit participants in this depravity, we're simply relieved and happy these women get to have their dreams come true.  

Fosse/Verdon (2019)
Bianca Marroquin and Michelle Williams
CHICAGO rehearsals 1975
Bob Fosse: “And I’m saying that it would be better for the show if the…”
Gwen Verdon: “Better for the show? Oh, really? Better for the show… Is that really what you think? I’ll tell you what would have been better for the show; opening four months ago with a director who wasn’t hellbent on turning it into two hours of misery for the audience.”

The above exchange may be fictional (from the splendid miniseries Fosse/Verdon). Still, it reflects a genuine issue that plagued the original production from the getgo...many felt that Fosse had simply made the show too bitter and misanthropic. 

Hollywood had no such concerns. When the time came for the film adaptation, far too much Hollywood money was riding on CHICAGO for the studio to even consider taking a chance on having another Pennies from Heaven on its hands (1981's mega-depressing megaflop about another amoral character who uses musical fantasy to escape reality). Miramax insured its $45 million investment by making sure that with this CHICAGO, a good time was going to be had by all. Even if it was a musical about murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery--all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
No one can say Rob Marshall didn’t understand the assignment. He was hired to deliver a hit movie musical and he did. Brilliantly. It really wasn't his fault that the CHICAGO he (and I) fell in love with back in 1975—labeled by many critics at the time as mean-spirited and ugly—had long given way to the forget your troubles, c'mon get happy crowd-pleaser CHICAGO of today. The 1996 Broadway revival turned CHICAGO into the 2nd longest-running musical in Broadway history. And it didn't accomplish that by making visiting tourists and blue-haired theater parties uncomfortable. It became a hit by submerging the show's unsavory attributes under layers of glamour, sex, and style. Yes, with nary a trace of irony or self-awareness, CHICAGO had become Fosse's "Razzle Dazzle” number.
CHICAGO's themes remain relevant, but its contemptuous 
view of America and humanity no longer discomforts

PERFORMANCES
Casting a movie in ways that invite comparisons to a show’s original cast can be problematic. Since there IS no other Roxie Hart for me but Gwen Verdon, I was actually pleased that the film went with an entirely different take on the character. I hadn’t seen RenĂ©e Zellweger in anything before, but her Roxie has a Glenda Farrell quality—tough, quirky, wisecracking—that feels both period-perfect and suits the film’s concept. Catherine Zeta-Jones is dynamic as Velma Kelly, but the lovely woman hasn’t a coarse bone in her body. It's impossible to take your eyes off of her when she's onscreen, but when she tries for Velma’s lowbrow vulgarity, the best you get (and here she isn’t alone) is Damon Runyon-esque posturing of the Guys and Dolls sort. The entire cast of CHICAGO is exceptionally good, Richard Gere--the most animated I’ve seen him onscreen since Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)--being a particular delight, displaying even more playful showmanship at age 52 than in that online clip of his 1973 appearance in Grease.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
The thrill and terror of seeing any movie adaptation of a favorite show is discovering what they did with (or to) the songs you loved best and played most often on the OBCR album. Sometimes your favorites don’t even make it into the finished film (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’s baffling decision to excise its sole lively production number “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five”). Other times you’ll wish they hadn’t (don’t get me started on A Chorus Line: The Movie again). From the very first time I listened to the CHICAGO Broadway cast album, “Funny Honey”, “The Cell Block Tango”, “Roxie”, and “Nowadays” became my favorite songs in the show. How did their transfer to film rate? 
"Funny Honey"-    B
The movie goes for a sultry, torchy interpretation of this number, and scores high points for the way it cleverly establishes the film's visual vocabulary for Roxie's fantasies. It only earns a "B" grade because I've never gotten over the sheer brilliance of Gwen Verdon's vocal performance of this song. It's comic poetry. 
"The Cell Block Tango"-  A+
Every detail about this inspired fever dream of a number works magnificently for me. I especially love that Marshall includes the "victims" in this death tango, and the way the prison reality is intercut with the fantasy. The number is theatrical, it's cinematic, it's a scarlet wall of women behind bars. My favorite number in the movie.
"Roxie"-  A+
Roxie is a singular sensation to herself in this narcissist anthem that becomes a terrifically glossy and stylish production number in the style of the classic Hollywood musicals. It's deliciously old-fashioned and Zellewgger shines in it. Literally. 
"Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag"- A+
Gangbusters! Because "Hot Honey Rag" wasn't on the OBCR album, I only became aware of it when Verdon & Rivera performed it on variety shows, and then I think it was just called "Keep It Hot." Anyhow, it's now a standard part of revival recordings and a "new" favorite for me. "Nowadays" is given its due as both a solo & duet, and the electric staging of  "Hot Honey Rag" had me thinking of the flappers in Thoroughly Modern Millie. And seriously, the lyrics to "Nowadays" are out of this world.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
In spite of that dreadful, written-for-the-film Oscar-bait song "I Move On", I'll always enjoy the movie version of CHICAGO. It's an incredibly well-crafted musical that I credit for rescuing the genre from animated singing teapots, and I genuinely think it deserves all of its success. (Though Marshall revealing in the DVD commentary that personal fave-rave Toni Collette was almost cast as Roxie was a bit of news I didn't need. OMG...can you imagine?! Be still my heart.)
But through no fault of its own--after all, the movie didn't change, I did--CHICAGO just doesn't stand the test of time for me as what I might consider a classic musical. When I revisit Cabaret (1972), even after all these years, it's a film that continues to offer me a full-course meal. Rewatching  CHICAGO recently was like having a sorbet dessert...thoroughly delightful and pleasant, but there wasn't anything for me to chew on. 

I told you that CHICAGO and A Chorus Line are eternally linked for me. Here it is 2022, both shows have been made into films, yet when I really want to have my best experience of either and both...I still go back to listen to those original Broadway cast records I purchased in August of 1975.


BONUS MATERIAL
There's a wealth of material on YouTube and on the internet about CHICAGO. You can see clips from the original production, the 1992 Long Beach production, the 1996 Broadway revival, and the deleted "Class" musical number from the motion picture. Any footage you can catch of Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivers performing is pure magic. 
Also available on YouTube (for the time being) is the silent film version of Chicago (1927)
 and the Ginger Rogers remake/reworking Roxie Hart (1942)
 - Thanks, Cinefilia

My favorite curio is an audio track from the 1975 Philadephia tryouts that features cut songs and the original lyrics to "The Cell Block Tango" (wherein we discover "Lipschitz" initially referred to Jacques Lipschitz, the cubist sculptor). Listen to it HERE.  

"Minsky's Chorus" Reginal Marsh - 1935
The painting that inspired the original CHICAGO poster art


Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2022

17 comments:

  1. Hi Ken! A few years ago I had the opportunity to see the silent version of "Chicago", directed in 1927 by the ill-fated Frank Urson. The screening, of which I have fond memories, took place at the Filmoteca de Catalunya with live musical accompaniment by a pianist.

    Greetings from Barcelona,
    Juan

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    1. Hello Juan! I can't thank you enough for mentioning your having had the opportunity to see the silent film version of CHICAGO. Seeing it on the big screen with piano accompaniment sounds ideal. I hope you wrote about it on your blog. I had long assumed it was unavailable, but your comment sent me on a Google hunt and I discovered a copy on YouTube over here. Those things are always being taken down, so I'm going to hop to it and watch it right away. What a find! And I never would have even thought to look for it were not for your being so kind as to visit this blog and comment. Thanks, and hope all is well with you! I'll be adding this bit of news to the Bonus Material section.

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  2. Hi, Ken.

    I'm a silent reader now, but I hope you don't mind a quick recommendation: if you go to youtube and look up "CHICAGO NOWADAYS STRATFORD PLAYHOUSE" (sorry I'm not good with the links) you'll see a clip from a 2017 high school production of Chicago that will blow your mind. All the original choreography of Nowadays, Hot Hot Honey Rag and the All That Jazz finale. Done to near perfection. This is a public high school of about 2,000 students outside of Houston, TX.

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    1. Hello Kip - Silent or otherwise, I feel thankful and happy you continue to be a reader of this blog after so long. Given how much I love this show, I thought I had scoured most of the internet for CHICAGO-related clips, so it's a kick to to directed to a new one. OMG! I watched those clips with my jaw open. I cannot believe that is a high school production. It's remarkable and better than a great many of the "professional" productions I've seen on YouTube (in certain aspects it was better than that CHICAGO production with Christie Brinkley...which wasn't cheap!). What a find and what a delight. Thank you!

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    2. It's really something, isn't it? I've watched it several times now and the video was obviously shot by real pros using multiple cameras and then seamlessly edited. The production values - sets, costumes, lighting, the orchestra up on the balcony! - are remarkable. It's almost like one of those ridiculous GLEE episodes where everything looks like it took months of rehearsals and millions of dollars. (If you want to torture yourself watch Gwyneth Paltrow and Lea Michele do this same number.). But the most impressive part of it all is these two extraordinary young women. Not only do they pull of this difficult choreography with aplomb but they look smashing in 20's frocks and hairstyles and fully inhabit their characters. That toughness that somewhat eluded Zeta-Jones is on full display with this Velma and the girl who played Roxie has the most gorgeously expressive face and eyes. (Far more expressive than Zellweger, sorry to say.)

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    3. Yes! It's precisely what you say. It has all the earmarks of a professional production. I usually don't have the stomach or fortitude for the high school productions posted on YouTube, but the one you directed me to was a real eye-opener. Something so encouraging about so much care being lavished on a teen production, too. I liked it so much.

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  3. Ken, that's cool that you bought the cast albums for Chicago and A Chorus Line when they were hot off the record presses. I myself didn't become interested in Broadway until 1978 when I started reading books like The Burns Mantle seasonal series, and did not start collecting cast albums until 1987/1988 when I did finally get to hear Chorus and Chicago.
    And, dang, I'm always so envious when you discuss your experience with 1970s cinema. I caught the tail end of that era in the early eighties when the big 5 new movies I was a fanatic for were the "four A's" (Apocalypse Now, All That Jazz, Altered States, An American Werewolf in London) and The Stunt Man.

    I am happy with the 2002 Chicago film as you are. The two "Z girls", as I call them, are superb. Rob Marshall has proven himself as one of the best stage musical adapters for the screen. He's both respectful of the original show and innovative in his reimaginings. I also like his movies of Into the Woods and Nine. Another "bonus" Chicago item fans should listen to is a version of the cut song "Ten Percent" as performed by Mark Sendroff on the Ben Bagley album "Contemporary Broadway Revisited."

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    1. Hi Mark - I really love that term "Z girls"! Yes, my whole interest in Broadway kind of blossomed out of the '70s evolution of Broadway (moving away from old-fashioned "classic" musicals like GYPSY and HELLO, DOLLY!) and the way it felt so similar to what was happening in film. Innovation and youth. I'm now at that age where I can't truly relate to much of contemporary Broadway (TICK...Tick Boom made we want to throw myself out a window) and "real" Broadway for me is stuck in the PROMISES PROMISES to DREAMGIRLS era. In fact, it sounds like you discovered Broadway musicals at precisely the age mine waned!
      The movies you signal as the tail-end of the '70s are quite an impressive roster of the last-gasp entries before mega-blockbusters and franchises dominated.
      Happy to hear you enjoyed Marshall's film of CHICAGO. While I had a problem with his movie version of NINE (another show I played to death), I liked INTO THE WOODS. As you say, I think he is genuinely respectful of the original, and even when I'm not fully on board with his interpretation, there is no arguing that, in not being able to please everyone, I like that he seems to work hard at making classic musical styles accessible to audiences resistant to the movie musical genre.
      Thank you for reading this post and sharing your comments. Also for mentioning that deleted CHICAGO song "Ten Percent" for readers to search out.

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    2. Thanks, Ken. I would say my main interest is collecting cast albums from that 50-year era of 1943 ("Oklahoma!" and the beginnings of American cast recordings becoming the norm) to 1993 or so. I have tried to be enthusiastic about new musicals of the last three decades (a few are worthy such as 1997's "Titanic" and 2002's "Thoroughly Modern Millie"), but, like you, my interest has waned. Many of the newer styles are mediocre and don't excite my ear. (A good comparison is between Lucy Simon's magnificent score for "The Secret Garden" of 1991 and her dismal follow-up a few years ago "Doctor Zhivago.")
      Mind you, I primarily experience musicals through their cast albums (although I did attend a Seattle pre-Broadway performance of 2006's "The Wedding Singer" and have seen a few other stage shows here and there) and subsequent movie versions, so I have to use my imagination to imagine how they're meant to performed - live and on stage - as they were meant to. "Oh Brother" is one of the funniest musicals I've ever heard - on disc - but it only lasted two days on Broadway, so perhaps it doesn't play well live and I wouldn't have as much fun actually seeing it.

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    3. I'm like you...I tend to experience most musicals through their cast albums (by the way, I absolutely adore TITANIC! And when I see the staging and choreography to "It's Your Wedding Day" from THE WEDDING SINGER on the Tony Awards, I get waterworks every time. It's exhilarating).
      I like envisioning a production in my head. Also, since I'm one of those guys who can't stand most musical comedy plotting (my greatest struggle with the classic MGM musicals of the 40s and 50s is that I love the music, but those insipid storylines keep my finger on the FF button) listening to the score alone is often the best way to fall in love with it. But my ear is different now. I have no sense of contemporary music: I liked two songs from HAMILTON, but the rest of it gave me a headache. And don't get me started on Spring Awakening and Book of Mormon...
      Thanks, Mark! And I'm going to give a listen to The Secret Garden, I don't know it except as a couple of sweet films.

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    4. Dear Ken: Hi! When I saw the film "Chicago" on its initial release, believe it or not I was unfamiliar with the Broadway show. But I found the film dazzling and entertaining; in fact, it is one of the few films from the past several decades that I actually saw more than once in the theater (the others, if anyone is interested, were "Amelie," "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Producers.")

      But like you, for me “Chicago” the movie has lost some of its appeal since I first saw it. I think it's because, once I got past the flash and excitement of its musical numbers, I realized this is a show about some REALLY nasty people. (Lord knows they're not nearly as nasty as any number of today's elected officials, but still. . .)

      So I'd like to devote my comments to horning in on your and Mark's wonderful conversation about original cast albums. I loved, Ken, reading about your purchase of “Chicago” and “A Chorus Line's” albums on the same day, note unheard (so to speak). (And by the way, I really love that photo of you and Jane Fonda—you look great in your “Chicago” t-shirt!). I also discovered Broadway cast albums in high school, although my tastes ran more toward the traditional. Back then I loved most the brassy, melodic shows of the 1950s—in many ways, they're still my favorites today. I especially loved discovering shows that were new to me (i.e., ones that were not available from the Cedar Rapids Public Library or my parents' record cabinet): “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “The Girl in Pink Tights,” etc.

      My current show album collection goes from “Porgy and Bess” (1935, although the cast didn't record an album until 1940) to “Far from Heaven” from 2013. Like you and Mark, though, Broadway music of the past few decades has lost its appeal for me. I prefer those composers who work out of the popular but pre-rock/r & b/hip hop/what-have-you music tradition. So shows like “Next to Normal,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Spring Awakening,” “In the Heights,” “Hamilton” etc. are well written, but their style of music does nothing for me. (That said, Eric and I did buy the original cast album of “Hair” after we saw a revival tour about 10 years ago.)

      My collection is somewhat eclectic, though, with gaps that might surprise some people: no “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “Annie,” for example. And also, for the most part, if a Broadway show was made into a movie (“Oklahoma!”, “Gypsy,” “Funny Girl”), I have the soundtrack album instead of the cast album, because the soundtrack is the version I grew up with.

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    5. Hi David – There’s something enviable about your not knowing anything about CHICAGO when you saw the movie. It’s like the mixed-blessing of my never having read a single Agatha Christie novel until I was in my 40s. On the downside, I missed out on a lot of terrific reading as a youngster, but on the plus side, imagine the thrill I had seeing all those early Hercule Poirot movies with absolutely NO idea whodunnit!
      Seeing CHICAGO under those circumstances must have been a blast. So much so that your later observation—that only after the smoke cleared did it hit you how reprehensible everyone in the film is—makes a lot of sense. I think CHICAGO being so razzle-dazzle entertaining is both its boon and its bane. In its essence, the laughter that CHICAGO inspires should catch in our throat, and we as an audience should (ideally) leave the theater asking ourselves what happened to us if a little bit of glamour and showmanship can make us root for two amoral murderers.
      Moving on to the topic of OBCRs, I wondered if seeing the film of CHICAGO inspired you to check out the Broadway album.

      With your comments about favoring traditional musicals in your teens echoes the sentiments of a couple others here. I think I’m not particularly familiar with a lot of shows from the 40s to the early 60s. I’ve never heard the scores to “Far from Heaven”, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” or “The Girl in Pink Tights.” With so many of these soundtracks on YouTube, perhaps I will discover some new favorites.
      You mentioned HAIR (did you ever see the film?) and I genuinely think that was the first Broadway album that really got me. My parents got it through Columbia House mail-order. So it’s fair to say most of what I think of as Broadway is from HAIR to DREAMGIRLS.
      I like that you don’t particularly follow the most popular classics and that your collection reflects your interest rather than just what won the most Tony Awards (one of my favorites that was never made into a film is NO STRINGS).
      Sometimes (like with CABARET) the difference between the Broadway album and the movie soundtrack is so drastically different, I can’t even align them as being the same show (hit happens with THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN and PAINT YOUR WAGON for me, too).

      And on the topic of perhaps being too old to appreciate contemporary tastes and trends, I find I have little patience with all those Disney animated films becoming Broadway shows. Nor am I fond of hearing songs by Donna Summer or Motown having the soul sucked out of them by being converted into showtunes for the latest trend in Jukebox Musicals.

      I recently have been listening to (over and over) the movie soundtrack of 2021’s WEST SIDE STORY (finally saw it and really loved it). So great to hear those full arrangements of that great music. I guess that’s always the allure of Broadway albums…listening to the music alone is an experience separate and apart from seeing the show on stage or on a screen. The imagination gets to run the show.

      Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby says to her cousin Nick “ I always love to see you at my table.” To you, David, I say a variation of the same. I always get a kick when you visit me here and comment so thoughtfully and personally (and kindly…I’m not crazy about that Fonda photo) on what you’ve read. It means a lot and I enjoy hearing from you. Thanks!

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  4. Ken, this was so interesting to read. I loved how personal and passionate the post was in regards to these two musicals. What the hell more could any composer hope for than to inspire a listener/viewer to embrace their work so wholeheartedly? Musicals like these were utterly different to the ones I grew up listening to (on old LPs at my grandparents' house!) I was teethed on "The Sound of Music," "South Pacific," "The Music Man" and the like. I didn't encounter either "Chicago" or "A Chorus Line" until seeing them in community theatre (!!!) Fortunately, both productions were of the absolute highest caliber, so there was no let down. Only increased interest in them as works of art. It was fascinating to follow your assessment of them over the years. (And I had to chuckle about the stunt-casting of Christie Brinkley, whether she was good or not. I adore Lynda Carter, but having her splashed across posters as the headliner when she was not playing Roxie nor Velma was just... odd to me.) Oh, and I'm jealous that you could wear a men's small T-shirt. I doubt they could have yanked that over my torso when I was being brought from the delivery room to the preemie ward! Ha ha!

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    1. Hi Jon! - You make a good point about how different shows like Chicago and A Chorus Line were at the time. I too grew up with certain Broadway albums at home or staring out at me from the library record bins. Strange that I labeled shows like The Pajama Game and My Fair Lady "old people's music" because it prevented me from really enjoying them until many years later. I discovered Broadway in reverse, I guess.
      As for stunt casting, CHICAGO has really become the "Love Boat" of theater. I love reading about the various pop stars of the '70s and '8s that pop up in the show. I had no idea Lynda Carter played Mama in a production! Happily, I found an audio recording of her performance on YouTube.
      I laughed at your comments about that male-small T-shirt. Ha! Can you imagine just how small a men's small must have been in the cocaine-thin '70s? I still have a small original Chorus Line T-shirt I purchased off of eBay. All I can do with it is possibly turn it into a tiny throw pillow.
      Thank you for reading this post and sharing your own Broadway musical history. As a singer/actor, you must have had the opportunity to appear in many of your favorites. Good to hear from you!

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  5. I certainly identify with listening to cast recordings with little or no knowledge of the story behind the songs. I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of an older man (who was probably all of 30 at that time) who seemed to know all these things, so I had access to a rather large catalog of records (real vinyl!). It was great and Chicago was certainly one of the favorites. I still have that record.

    Seeing the movie, I have to say I enjoyed it enough. The biggest surprise was seeing Desmond Richardson (pictured above with the Zs) in a movie! He had been nominated for a 1999 Tony for Fosse but I think Chicago was his first film credit...

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    1. Forgot to say, it's Max

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    2. Hi Max - Thanks for crediting the striking Desmond Richardson. I had no idea he was a Tony-nominated performer, but he has a great look and captures the eye in each number. In fact, I think the casting of the dancers in CHICAGO is unusually good, in that most have the facial expressiveness of actors, and others look to be more "mature" and have a great period look for a movie set in the 1920s.
      Yes, discovering the joys of a show's cast album can be a thrilling experience. You're lucky to have had access to what sounds like a broader scope of cast albums than you would have sought on your own. (I sometimes miss LPs, but I don't miss having my listening bliss interrupted by having to get up and turn the record over). There are still so many older shows I've yet to explore. I think one of my late-in-life discoveries (thanks to the internet) was Sondheim's score for 1965's "Do I Hear a Waltz?" It's a show I don't think I would care to see performed, but the music is wonderful. Thank you very much for your informative contribution to this post and for visiting my blog!

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