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Celebrity Justice


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Photo courtesy of Catherine Ashmore The cast of "Chicago" performs a musical tale of murder this week at UA Centennial Hall. Featuring new staging of Bob Fosse's legendary choreography, the show promises a "razzle dazzle" good time.

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 12, 1999

O.J. Simpson was good for Broadway. How? His murder trial forced Americans to doubt the fairness of a justice system that celebrities are seemingly above.

"Chicago: The Drop-Dead Broadway Musical" casts the same skeptical eye at celebrity justice, and in the wake of trials like Simpson's, the show has been revitalized by its newfound social relevance.

"Chicago" is about two murderesses, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, awaiting their trials for crimes of passion. Velma, a vaudevillian, is in the media limelight until Roxie usurps her unique form of stardom with her own crime.

"She is an absolute survivor who never accomplished the point to which she thought she would," says Donna Marie Asbury, of her character Velma.

The two compete for headlines along with their lawyer, Billy Flynn, who is known for his courtroom theatrics. Overall, the musical presents a stark portrayal of the fleeting nature of celebrity, and the sensationalistic voracity of a press and public obsessed with the seedier side of life.

The show may seem modern, but its history stretches back to the 1920s. The show was originally a play penned by Maurine Dallas Watkins, who, when working as a Chicago Tribune reporter, collected stories from the criminal courts that would serve as the basis for the play. She wrote the first draft while attending a playwriting class at Yale University under the guidance of Eugene O'Neill's teacher George Pierce Baker. The play debuted in New York on Dec. 30, 1926 under the direction of George Abbot.

In 1975, the play was adapted to become a musical, choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse, with book, lyrics and music by Kander and Ebb.

With Fosse, "every movement has a reason," says Asbury, "and this is one of Kander and Ebb's best scores."

"Chicago's" Broadway revival in 1997 brought with it the essence of the first production, with revamped choreography by Fosse prot­g­ Ann Reinking. For "Chicago," Reinking was awarded a Tony, one of six won by the show, including Direction, Lighting, Actor, Actress and Best Musical Revival.

The show is sexy and sophisticated, with a seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines relevance. Its actors dress in sleek, black costumes, standing out from the minimalist set. "It is pretty much a black set, very bare, where the audience has no choice but to focus on the actors," says Asbury.

When Maurine Dallas Watkins wrote "Chicago" she thought she was glorifying the women, and almost didn't release the rights, but the show did go on. Now, this satiric comedy is captivating audiences around the world, with its biting look at the contemporary issue of celebrity justice.

As Asbury says, "It's so timely. The same stuff is happening today. It's not just musical comedy. It's real life."

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