Sunday, May 8, 2022


For me, the history of CHICAGO  has always been inextricably linked with that of A Chorus Line. CHICAGO premiered on Broadway on 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 phenomenon. 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, I remember that day in August of 1975 when I went to The Gramophone, a gay-owned and operated record store on San Francisco's Polk Street, and purchased the Original Broadway Cast Recording LPs of both shows. 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
Given that Broadway musicals don't crop up with the regularity of movies, the appearance of the highly-anticipated shows was quite a big deal to me. Before CHICAGO & A Chorus Line captured my imagination, the last Broadway cast album I'd purchased was Sondheim's A Little Night Music, a musical meal I'd been dining out on since 1973Having committed every note and melody of that 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. 

Back in the day, all the smart money was on CHICAGO. The only familiar names A Chorus Line boasted were composer Marvin Hamlish, then all but unavoidable after his recent Oscar win for The Sting (1973), and director-choreographer Michael Bennett, whose name was familiar to me from the liner notes of the library-borrowed cast albums of Company and Follies. CHICAGO distinguished itself as the musical with the Broadway heavy hitters and showbiz pedigree. It marked the Broadway musical return of Gwen Verdon (her last Broadway musical was 1966's Sweet Charity)! The professional reunion of husband & wife collaborators 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 best of all, CHICAGO marked the first-time pairing of two genuine Broadway legends…Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera!
Illustration by Sam Norkin -1975
Wanting to start with the "sure thing," I listened to the CHICAGO album first, which became one of those rarer-than-rare occurrences where one's extraordinarily high expectations are met and 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 cocaine 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 I wore for years until it disintegrated. An image captured mere moments before Ms. Fonda graciously signed the Barbarella photo I've got secreted away in the book you see tucked under my arm (The Busby Berkeley Book). The memo is an affirmative reply to my written request to NY's 46th St. Theater inquiring about the possibility of purchasing a CHICAGO T-shirt (mail-order Broadway merchandise was yet to be a thing). It cost a whopping $5 plus $1 shipping. 

Next, I listened to A Chorus Line, optimistically resigned to the certainty that it couldn't 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, the essential link in my relationship with CHICAGO and A Chorus Line. They're culturally joined at the hip for me. 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 regularly 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 compassionate. And that made listening to it a poignant and exhilarating experience—all goosebumps and waterworks. Each musical, reflecting as they did, opposite yet equally valid 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 the opportunity arose for me to actually see a production of 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 may explain why I was never very fond of the pared-down, anachronistically costumed 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 the modern 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 precisely eye-level with what mainstream American culture has come to normalize, reward, and elect.   

And something happened that, for the longest time, I had given hope of ever seeing...after decades of false starts and empty rumors (Liza and Goldie! Goldie and Madonna!), and against impossible odds (non-animated movie musicals were given the death knell) CHICAGO, at last, had been made into a movie. Twenty-seven years after its Broadway debut. 
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. Who was the director tasked with reviving the viability of live-action musicals? 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. When the film was over and we were handed our evaluation cards by anxious-looking marketing people (the film wouldn't open wide until January), 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 would be the only surviving template for future generations.) 
The film became a major boxoffice and critical hit, garnering a whopping 13 Oscar nominations that year, winning 6, among them Best Picture. CHICAGO revitalized 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 neutered. 
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 Roxie and Velma are portrayed. 
Gwen Verdon & Chita Rivera gave us a Roxie and Velma who were genuinely "...older than I ever intended to be." The undeserving pair's hunger for vaudeville fame was a last-gasp act of desperation and resentment after a lifetime of failure and rejection. The Roxie and Velma of the film are both so young and beautiful (and talented) that we're left with the impression that life, indeed, has been unduly dismissive of them. Each suffers so many humiliations, setbacks, and exploitations that by the finale, we're rooting for them and have forgotten (or stopped caring) that they are remorseless murderers. This is obviously the whole point, and the film stays true to that notion... academically. But rather than leaving the audience with a bad taste in its mouth for its complicity in the amorality, I know I was just happy to see these two exploited sad sacks seeing their dreams come true. It was a feel-good ending passing itself off as hard-knock cynicism. 

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), but it reflects a genuine issue that plagued the original production of CHICAGO from the start: concern that Fosse had simply made the show too bitter and misanthropic for its own good. 

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.

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 revamped 1996 Broadway revival of CHICAGO turned Fosse's 1975's ambivalent success 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 discomfit

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 Renée 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. The "foul-mouth broad" part of her performance never convinced me. 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 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. 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 how it cleverly establishes the film's visual vocabulary for Roxie's fantasies. It only earns a "B" grade because as good as Zellweger is, she simply can't touch Gwen Verdon for comedy delivery. An observation that's less a jab at Ms. Z than a tip of the hat to Verdon.  
"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's 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 OBC 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.

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 "what if?" 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.

There's a wealth of material about CHICAGO on YouTube and throughout the internet. 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 guaranteed to be pure magic. 
Also available on YouTube (for the time being) is the silent film version of Chicago (1927)
 and the Ginger Rogers remake/reworking of 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" by Reginal Marsh - 1935
The painting that inspired the original CHICAGO poster art

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2022


  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,

    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.

  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.

    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!

    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.)

    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.

  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."

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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!

  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!

    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!

  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...

    1. Forgot to say, it's Max

    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!

    3. OMG "get up and turn the record over". As someone who was always scratching up those records and couldn't afford a really good stereo system I am totally perplexed by the vinyl resurgence. What's next, VHS tapes? Outhouses? I only miss the covers.

    4. As someone who relied on LPs for perhaps the first ten to 15 years of my teaching career, there can be no substitute for being able to arrange the songs in the order of preference; never having to deal with listening to a song that has had a pop-scratch-skip on it for so long it has become part of your memory of the itself; warping. The cover art and liner notes are the most missed things for me, too. It will never not feel like a sci-fi fantasy dream come true that I have 13,000 of my favorites songs in my pocket.

    5. Thanks for your kind words, Ken, it's always a pleasure to engage here, I only wish I had more time to do so. Of all the records, the one that I really liked was COMPANY. Even though at that age, I had no context for much of the subject matter of the show, I couldn't get it out of my head. It does seem like it fell out of favor for a long time. The web says there was a revival around 1995, but I was not aware of that previously. Then about another ten years to the 2006 revival with Raúl Esparza (he got a Tony nomination for this!) that I have a DVD of. Then the 2011 concert version, which I have a Blu-Ray of. As you may know, there was a revival in 2020, and I was so fortunate to see the last preview before everything shut down. It was an electric experience. I'm sure the staging would not be to everyone's taste, but I liked it quite a bit. PBS Great Performances is showing an episode about it this Friday "Keeping Company with Sondheim". I've gone a bit off topic for this review, but I'm thinking there won't be a film adaptation. I somewhat hope not, it can remain in unfilmed perfection, like Sidney Poitier's movie adaptation of Cats. ;-)

    6. Hi Max - I can relate to your fondness for COMPANY. I too, discovered it in my teens and I wore out my library-loaned copy (another "blind" selection. I'd not heard a note of the score, but was intrigued by the LP cover and the liner notes). I also was too young to really "get" the sophistication of the show and its attitude towards relationships, but like FOLLIES, I grew up into really appreciating what I had already loved. I've seen only two productions of COMPANY, one a regional theater version and one an original cast reunion concert version. You're so fortunate to have seen the 2020 revival! I think the DVD of the 2006 revival was the last production I saw. But isn't it remarkable when you can connect with a show like you have? To be able to enjoy it through the years in its many incarnations and still find it gratifying.
      I keep wondering if they'll ever do FOLLIES as a film. I was bummed when plans for a SUNSET BLVD film was put on ice. But maybe I shouldn't be.
      Thanks for commenting again , Max, and I LOVE the "Six Degrees of Separation" reference! Made me laugh.

  6. Everything you've written here is spot on. The original production of CHICAGO was the first show I saw on Broadway. The first time I saw it was on a Saturday matinee on the first day of my first trip to NYC. I landed at La Guardia at 10:00 a.m. and was sitting in the 46th Street Theater at 2:00 p.m. When Gwen and Chita finished the Hot Honey Rag, I gave them a standing ovation (until a friend grabbed me and hissed, "It's not over!" Duh. I was 19 years old and overwhelmed.) I saw the production on Broadway a total of five times, no small feat when you live in Indiana. I even saw the National Company at the Blackstone Theater... in Chicago! Then there was that summer stock tour with Larry Kert which I saw 7 times. Being young and innocent, I thought they were all going to be like this one.

    I cannot be rational about CHICAGO. So I'll be brief. I like the movie of CHICAGO because I didn't hate it. I was prepared to hate it, but I didn't. They got so very much of it right, so why be a churl? It lacks the dark cynicism of the original, but the original production opened the year after Nixon resigned and literally only a month after the Vietnam war ended. It was a dark and cynical time. Maurine Dallas Watkins, the reporter who started all this, wrote a dark and cynical story. When you know more about what she was doing and her own role in it all, the whole story falls into place. And it's dark tale with a surprising feminist core. But there is a fuck of a lot of money involved in producing a movie. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS got a new ending to make the story more commercial. It happens. CHICAGO got an attitude adjustment. But they didn't kill it.

    The credit for that goes primarily to Martin Richards and to his producing partner Sam Crothers. They both have deep roots in Broadway theater and the movie CHICAGO shows that. It is so theatrical in so many ways. In my years toiling in the business offices of Broadway, I had contact with them both via several different projects. Sam was one of the nicest men in the New York theater and an expert in producing. He had a great eye and knew the business and producing, inside and out. Just the man you would want to work for and there are so very few of those in the business. Marty Richards was also a showman and he was filthy rich. Enormous family money. Seriously enormous. But also a very decent guy. Treated people well. He was rich and you knew it, but I never knew him to be an asshole to anyone. He was also one of the producers of the original Broadway production. (By extension, I suspect Sam was also involved.) His enthusiasm for the property was huge.
    So, Marty knew this property well and when he got the rights to film CHICAGO, I was heartened that something good could come of it. And it did. There are lots of little things I could quibble about with the film, but why? Marty did a great job bringing it to the screen. He deserved that Oscar. The movie really is deeply rooted in Broadway. Had it been produced in Los Angeles by L.A. producers, well…. But, luckily, it wasn’t.

    That’s it. I just wanted to jump in and give Marty and Sam the credit they richly deserve on this one. Thanks for your thoughts on a favorite musical. Two, actually. What a cultural phenomenon we experienced with A CHORUS LINE. I still wonder who I am, anyway.

    1. Hi George –
      So jealous of your having CHICAGO be your first Broadway show! (Was A Chorus Line your second?) …and that you got to see the original cast and production so many times. You really seized the moment in a way that makes your statement “ I cannot be rational about CHICAGO” fully understandable.
      When it comes to the sheer number of times you’ve seen CHICAGO in various forms, I can also understand your feelings about the movie I like the term “attitude adjustment”…perfectly described the adaptation).
      Thanks for providing some background information on the individuals involved in bringing CHICAGO to the screen. That both men had an extensive history in theater speaks a great deal to perhaps why CHICAGO’s translation to the screen succeeded where so many others haven’t. You can’t beat having people who understand musical theater in particular, who have experience with the genre, and who are invested in the material. (Assigning guys like Richard Attenborough or John Huston [“Annie”] to musicals is an expensive gamble. It worked with the unlikely Robert Wise [West Side Story/The Sound of Music] but how often does that work out?)
      You’ve added a great deal to this post with your contributing an up close and personal “I was there!” account of a very exciting time and place. With the Internet’s propensity to rewrite and reimagine history through the often revisionist prism of youth (all those false, anachronistic “empowerment” quotes being ascribed to Marilyn Monroe online make my head spin), folks our age have to be the living historians of our era. Thanks, George…for the kind words, for reading this post, and taking the time to comment!

    2. In answer to your question, CHICAGO was first at 2 p.m. PACIFIC OVERTURES was second, at 8 p.m. And at midnight, it was Dorothy Collins at the Grand Finale. I daresay no one ever had a better first day in New York City.

    3. Incredible! What a fabulous introduction to NY. And what a testament to youth. Nowadays if I have but a single event that involves an exciting evening out, not only am I exhausted, but it takes nearly a week to recover. Glad to hear you saw PACIFIC OVERTURES as well. I saw it at the Curran or Geary Theater on the same season ticket that got me A CHORUS LINE. Oddly, I can't remember a single thing about it save for getting Mako's autograph afterward.

  7. I loved your take on this.. Chicago is one of my favourites and only seen the 2002 version sadly. I loved it and was so immersed in everything.. although Gere was better on a rewatch. These earlier versions sound much better, I totally agree your thoughts on with the celeb of the day casting choices.. just heard Pamela Anderson. I totally envy you for seeing these back in the day. As for A Chorus Line, I remember watching and waiting with bated breath to see if Michael Douglas would sing.. and it was poss geared for an Eighties viewer with Dallas star Audrey Landers in the line up.. enough said. Hope you are well and happy x

    1. Hello, Gill - I just now read your wonderful 2019 post on CHICAGO to be up to speed on what you liked about the film. It's so well made, the satire is on point, and the talent on display is, to a person magnificently up to the task. I was always afraid my longer history with the show would spoil any movie adaptation, but Rob Marshall triumphed with this one, didn't he?
      I don't know that you're missing out on much in not having seen any of the stage incarnations (the stunt casting stuff), but the music endures, and maybe you'd get a kick out of a theatrical revival that recreated the original choreography.
      Because stage shows are so unavailable to most, I tend to be grateful if any Broadway musical gets a film release (although A CHORUS LINE would seem to be the exception to prove the rule!) It's just great to have a lasting record of these classic shows.
      It sounds as though you liked much of the same things about the film version of CHICAGO as I do. And you make the good point of citing what a departure a singing and dancing role for Zellweger is for those who were introduced to her via Bridget Jones' Diary.
      Thank you for reading this and commenting. I am happy and well and hope you can say the same. Hope all is well in Twitter-land, a place I both miss and kinda-don't.
      Cheers to you!

  8. I do love it when we coincide with reviews. Need some recommendations from you on all things Alain Delon.. he's just replaced Helmut as my current No1...

    1. Yes! Alain Delon is marvelous... But he's something of a new discovery for me, too. I haven't seen many of his films. THE SWIMMING POOL (with the exquisite Romy Schneider) is superb. I liked him in BORSALINO, and the only other film I've seen him in is SPIRITS OF THE DEAD. But he's a stunner and you're sure to have a great time exploring his filmography.

    2. Thanks for the recommendations. Will check these out...

    3. Since you're a Visconti fan (DEATH IN VENICE, THE INNOCENT) I'm surprised you haven't seen Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale and Burt Lancaster in Visconti's THE LEOPARD, which is usually regarded as his masterpiece. It's a long, long movie, but some people think Lancaster's performance is his best (dubbed, but brilliant. maybe that's why it's brilliant). Leonard Maltin said Delon and Cardinale are the last word in romantic pairings. I'm not sure who's prettier, but it's probably a tie. The ball scene is one for the ages. Definitely recommended. Delon is also great as a hitman in LE SAMURAI and a homicidal head case in PURPLE NOON based on the same novel as THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY.

    4. Oops. Rereading your L'INNOCENTE review I guess you have seen THE LEOPARD. I guess I was confused because you stated you had only seen Delon in 3 movies and THE LEOPARD wasn't included. My bad.

    5. Hi Kip - Yes, seeing Alain Delon in "The Leopard" slipped my mind when I was responding to Gill earlier. I would hate to think that was due to my finding him forgettable, but my mind goes so swiftly to Claudia Cardinale and Lancaster (who seems so much better in Euro films like 1900 and Conversation Piece).
      Thanks for mentioning those other films, I will put them on my "Yet To See" Delon list.
      Nice to hear from you, Kip!