Murder, Fame, and Rivalry in ‘Chicago’

Looking to jazz up your weekend? This may be the musical for you.

About the show

“Chicago” has gone through many adaptations. It initially premiered as a play in 1926, then became a 1975 musical and then the 2002 film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Despite its evolution, the story largely remains the same.

“Chicago” follows two women, Velma and Roxie, who are both imprisoned for murder and desperately trying to snag a “get out of jail” card.

The catch? They’re both guilty. Aside from their freedom, Velma and Roxie are also seeking fame. They each want to become famous for the murders they committed. 

With a common goal and equally large egos, the two end up forming an intense rivalry. 

Choosing a favorite

While this may seem like the obvious choice as one of the most well-known pieces from the show, my favorite song from the musical was “Cell Block Tango.” During the song, Velma and several other women sing about the murders that landed them in prison. 

“Cell Block Tango” has a sense of dark humor as some reasons that pushed these characters to commit murder were relatively petty. For example, one reason was “popping your gum.” Each woman who sang gave a short explanation of her crime that left the audience anticipating the next woman’s story.

This, combined with the choreography, makes for a very entertaining number. It definitely wouldn’t hold up in court, but it was pretty catchy. 

What surprised me

With the story set in the 1920s and the characters aspiring to be famous showgirls, “Chicago” leans heavily toward a ragtime Jazz type of show. 

Aside from a few props like ladders and chairs, the show’s set design doesn’t “wow” in the same way musicals like “Beetlejuice” and “Les Miserables” do, but it sets the scene.  

The band is in full view, and each song number is introduced by an announcer who adds to the 20’s feel. While I’ve said before that I love a good stage set, I thought the show presented as one big jazz performance was still engaging — and charming. 

What I didn’t like

I really love the plot of “Chicago.” The thought of two convicted murderers plotting to escape prison so they could chase fame from said murder is so ridiculous that it’s fun. 

The absurdity of the scheme along with Velma and Roxie’s downright deviousness are entertaining — hence, I was disappointed that the second act felt so rushed.  

After all the build-up of Act l, I returned from intermission hoping for more hijinks from the characters and increased catty interactions between Velma and Roxie, but the resolution of the play felt very abrupt and left me wanting more — similar to my feelings on “Annie.” 

Final Verdict

Overall, I enjoyed seeing “Chicago.” Even though I’m not a big jazz fan, the songs were fun, and the choreography was quite impressive. 

Even with the second act feeling rushed, the story still has a fairly satisfying ending.

If you go:

Location: Belk Theater

Time: Varries by show

When: Sept. 14- Sept. 17

Get tickets here.

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