48 Years Ago: Celebrate the first performance of Chicago the Musical


A billboard of Chicago the Musical is posted by the Ambassador Theatre. In New York, Chicago is performed at the Ambassador Theatre, which is located at 219 West 49th Street in Manhattan. (Broadway Tour/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ashley Bu, Science and Technology Editor

48 years ago on June 3 1975, a theatrical production premiered on Broadway that would forever transform the global theater scene. This musical, Chicago, would become beloved by many people even in the 21st century.

The musical, which is the second-longest running Broadway musical behind the Phantom of the Opera, was written by playwrights Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. It originally ran for 936 performances, but after many mixed reviews, the production would end after just two years.

21 years and five months later, on November 14 1996, the first performance of Chicago’s musical revival would premiere at the Ambassador Theatre.


In the original production, Chicago was nominated ten times at the 1975 Tony Awards. However, it did not end up winning any actual awards. The Chorus Line, another huge Broadway musical, stole the show instead.

After Chicago was revived, it gained much popular reception. In the Tony Awards of 1996, it finally won six awards. Additionally, it won six Drama Desk Awards, six Academy Awards, and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Album, which further established its glowing reputation.

Much of this well-received reception comes from the way that the performers went about the plot. With a much more sinister-yet-satirical plot, Chicago distinguishes itself from many other Broadway productions, which are more sentimental in nature.


Chicago takes place in the decade of the 1920s where crime and prohibition ran rampant. The plot mainly focuses on Roxie Hart, a chorus singer who hopes to achieve stardom in the vaudeville world. Vaudeville is a form of entertainment that involves burlesque-style singing and dancing.

After being thrown into Cook County Jail for killing her husband who she hid a secret affair from, she meets a glamorous murderess: Velma Kelly. The rivalry hires the same lawyer by the name of Billy Flynn who is willing to help their murders and their personalities gain more publicity through newspapers. Kelly and Hart each try to fight to gain more fame, but slowly, they become more acclimated to each other.

Although Chicago’s multiple awards, its mystifying story, and its long-lasting popularity make it a Broadway icon, these aspects should not detract from the musical’s historical background.


Chicago took some inspiration from another play that occurred in the 1920s. On a Chicago information and ticket-purchasing site titled Broadway in Chicago, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart were revealed to be based off of two murderesses: Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan respectively. 

Gaertner, similarly to her counterpart Kelly, was convicted of murder of her lover. Annan also murdered her lover, but it was not due to an attempt to resolve a cheating scandal (as with Hart’s case). Gaertner and Annan eventually met in Cook County Jail where they were both placed on “Murderesses’ Row”.

Despite Kelly and Hart’s rocky relationship, their real-life counterparts got along much better, partly due to hiring different lawyers. Both Kelly and Hart were eventually acquitted to all-male juries. As a result of their trials, women’s rights lobbyists advocated for allowing women to serve on juries to mitigate bias caused by the physical appearance of women.

Tickets to Broadway Chicago the Musical performances, which run throughout all days of the summer except Wednesdays, can be purchased here.