Chicago

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Chicago poster.jpg
Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery - all the things we hold near and dear to our hearts.
Bandleader

Chicago, a musical originally choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse in 1975, is the story of Roxie Hart, a wannabe cabaret star in 1920s Chicago. She sleeps around unknown to her husband, Amos, but has a falling-out with one of her lovers, shoots him and is arrested for murder. In prison, she develops a rivalry with the star Velma Kelly, who killed her own husband and sister.

Roxie, through bribing the prison warden, Mama Morton, gets the best lawyer in town, Billy Flynn. Billy is a smooth-talking trickster who has never lost a case. As tensions mount and the media make Roxie a star, fame begins to get to Roxie's head. But the press will love her even more if she is found guilty...

A biting satire of celebrity trials, the press and show business in general, Chicago had an extremely successful Broadway revival in 1996. From there, it was made into a movie in 2002; it won that year's Best Picture Oscar. Also notable for the Broadway productions, which regularly star big names -- the original boasted Chita Rivera as Velma and Jerry Orbach as Billy Flynn... the revival starred Bebe Neuwirth and Joel Grey in those same roles.

Based on the non-musical play Chicago from the 1920s, which was in turn based on actual murder cases. It was adapted twice for the screen, first as a silent film in 1927, then in 1941 as Roxie Hart starring Ginger Rogers.

For the actual city, see The Windy City. For the band, see Chicago.


Tropes used in Chicago include:
  • Alpha Bitch: Arguably every female character in the play except Hunyak. Just see "Cell Block Tango".
  • Ambiguous Lesbian: Matron Mama Morton.
    • The directors' commentary on the DVD mentions that some viewers complained about Mama not being "dykey enough" in the movie.
  • Amoral Attorney: Billy Flynn, who manages to acquit two murderers that we know of and likely dozens that we don't.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The reasons the ladies give for killing the men they killed were that they were cheating on them, lying about being married (and to six women no less), sleeping around behind their back, attacking them in a jealous rage... and popping bubblegum.
  • Asshole Victim: Invoked: in "Cell Block Tango", the first proper lyric is "He had it comin'!", although at least some of them are extreme cases of Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Attention Whore: Roxie.

Roxie: And the audience loves me. And I love them for loving me and they love me for loving them. And we love each other. 'Cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods....

  • Author Avatar: Mary Sunshine to Maureen Dallas Watkins.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Given Billy Flynn's reputation, it was sort of inevitable.
    • Could be applied to Roxie and Velma, too. Especially Roxie.
  • Berserk Button: Apparent in the "Cell Block Tango", especially with the woman who shot her husband for popping gum too loudly.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Hungarian is left untranslated. For those wondering, her monologue translates to, "What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband and I chopped his head off. But it's not true. I am innocent. I don't know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn't understand."
  • Black Comedy: Lots, most notably "And now, presenting Katalin Helinski with the famous Hungarian Rope Trick!"
  • Blatant Lies: Most of Billy Flynn's role.
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Amos... he even has a song "Mr. Cellophane" about it.
    • And is song's the only one that doesn't get announced.
      • "May I have my exit music please?" (silence).
  • Chewbacca Defense: "Razzle Dazzle" is this trope in song form.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The play's humor.
  • Courtroom Antic: Basically all of Billy Flynn's role. Lampshaded hard with "Razzle Dazzle".
  • Crapsack World: Oh, boy. Where do we start?
  • Death by Woman Scorned: A recurring theme in "Cell Block Tango" -- Velma killed her husband and his lover her own sister, Annie poisoned her boyfriend after finding out he was already married six times at the same time, and Mona killed her boyfriend after finding out he had three other girlfriends and a boyfriend.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "So I fired two warning shots... into his head." For popping bubblegum.
  • Downer Ending: In the original musical, no-one in the audience gets what they want. Anyone supporting Roxie or Velma will be disappointed that they stay small-time. Anyone wanting them sent down, will be sad they got off. Amos is still left with nothing, and the only person who was innocent is the one who dies. The two most unsympathetic characters, Mama and Billy, get away scot free.
  • Dropped a Bridget On Him: In the play (though not the movie), Mary Sunshine is really a man.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Roxie seems to get this treatment, especially after Billy uses it to improve her chances of getting acquitted.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The rivalry between Roxie and Velma.
  • Fan Service: Loads of it.
  • Foe Yay: Roxie and Velma.
  • Girls Behind Bars
  • Guilt by Association Gag: The one innocent person in "Cell Block Tango" is the one who gets killed. It's implied that the only reason she got blamed/killed in the first place is because no one understands her Hungarian, and it's said that she's the first woman in the area to get executed at all.
  • Humble Pie: Roxie is acquitted, but literally moments later, a new heinous crime is committed and all the reporters rush out of the courtroom, leaving her all alone and without the fame and adoration she had been seeking.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The song "Class", in which Mama and Velma lament the lack of manners, dignity, and overall class... while swearing like sailors ("Holy shit!" Holy shit!" "Jesus Christ!" "Every girl is a twat!").
  • "I Am" Song:
    • "When You're Good to Mama" for Mama.
    • "All I Care About" for Billy.
    • "Mr. Cellophane" was Amos's.
  • Implausible Deniability
  • Institutional Apparel
  • Karma Houdini: Velma, Roxie and Billy Flynn. Meanwhile, inverted in that Hunyak gets punished, and Amos gets dumped and gets nothing.
  • Keep It Foreign: In the Hungarian production, the Hunyak was replaced by Cheng Li, a Chinese inmate who spoke untranslated Chinese during the Cell Block Tango.
  • Lack of Empathy: "So if there's something that upsets you, makes you unhappy in anyway... don't shut your fatass mouth off to me, because I don't give a shit. NOW MOVE IT OUT!"
  • Lovable Rogue: Roxie's a lying, scheming, glory-seeking, Jerkass murderess but still manages to be endearing at several points. Ditto for Velma and Billy.
  • Madness Mantra: Pop, six, squish, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz...
  • The Makeover: From dowdy housewife to "sweetest little jazz killer in town."
  • Meaningful Name: The only two innocent characters in the musical have names that imply that they are fools:
    • Hunyak the only wrongly convicted prisoner and the only one to be executed. "Honyock" is an ethnic slur that was popular in America from the 1880's through the 1950's. It is derived from a Hungarian word meaning (among other things) "simple minded" and "loser". Mostly directed at Central-Eastern Europeans. Her real name Katalin means "pure".
    • Amos, whom Billy calls "Andy" when he steps down from the witness stand. This is a reference to Amos 'n' Andy, a race comedy radio series originating from Chicago radio station WMAQ beginning in 1928. Most of the series' male characters were performed by two white comedians who had worked in minstrel shows on vaudeville. In the series, Amos was a schemer and Andy was innocent and a bit simpleminded (this is a happy accident as the name Amos is a carryover from the original play and movie which both predated Amos 'n' Andy).
  • Moral Dissonance: The song "Class" is a lament on how rotten the world has become. Sung by a murderess and a corrupt warden. While drunk.
  • My Name Is Not Durwood:
    • Flynn always gets Amos's name wrong -- until the trial, when Flynn suddenly gets his name right, putting him off his guard and helping Flynn get the testimony he needs. The implication that this is a deliberate tactic is strengthened by an earlier scene where Flynn is talking to Roxie without her husband present, and gets his name right then.
    • Flynn does the same thing to Roxie once, calling her Trixie, in the scene where he's shelved her case to focus on a fresher scandal.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted with Billy. Though he intended to be Roxie's defense attorney for 5000 dollars and nothing less, he agrees to help with only 2000 dollars that Amos managed to scrape together. Supposedly, it is because he admires Amos' loyalty and love to Roxie. However, he's being facetious. Flynn couldn't care less about Amos' loyalty; he smells money in the case and doesn't want to let the possibility go. Notice how he puts a hand down on Amos' little pile of money when Amos tries to leave.
    • Also Flynn then encourages Amos to sell off every item Roxie owned, with one jar of cold cream going for $20. 150 such items would get Billy his $3000.
    • Both he and Mama Morton get a couple genuine moments in the film version, however. Mama seems genuinely upset at the Hunyak's execution, and the two of them take the time to attend Velma and Roxie's show.
  • Politically-Correct History
  • Refuge in Audacity: "Razzle Dazzle" is practically a hymn to getting away with murder through liberal use of outrageous stunts.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The Musical wasn't a great success when it first came out because it was considered too cynical. The revival is currently running (it's been about 15 years), and it is one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history.
  • Stripperiffic: In the stage version both genders and everyone (except for Amos, Mama Morton and Billy Flynn) is like this.
  • Take That: In the end, the whole "we couldn't have done it without you" bit is this.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Hunyak, the only woman in "Cell Block Tango" who did not commit the murder she was accused of is the only person we see found guilty and executed.
  • Trickster: Roxie and Billy Flynn.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Amos and Roxie. And he knows it too.
  • The Unfair Sex: Played both ways, but with tongue firmly in cheek.
  • The Vamp: Most of the female characters.
  • Villain Protagonist: The main character is well-known to the audience to be guilty of murder and is generally a poor example of a human being.
  • Villain Song: "All I Care About" (which is also an "I Am" Song), "Cell Block Tango", "Razzle Dazzle", "Roxie".... really, nearly all songs can count.
    • The number of non-villain songs can be counted on two fingers - the hopelessly naive Mary Sunshine's "A Little Bit of Good", and Amos's showstopping "Mr Cellophane".
Examples specific to the 2002 film version:
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Matron Mama Morton (film only); in the original production, she's a butch diesel-dyke; in The Movie, she's played by Queen Latifah.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mary Sunshine has hints of being this- she passes herself off as naive and optimistic, but she has a very shrewd expression a lot of the time, and, with the rest of the media, ditches Roxie when a hotter story comes along.
  • Black Vikings: In the movie, Queen Latifah as Mama Morton. In 1920's America, there's no way that an African-American (no matter how smart and capable) would be allowed to hold a position of authority over white people (no matter how dim-witted and degenerate).
  • Blasphemous Boast: Billy Flynn has a nice one to Amos.

Billy Flynn: I don't like to blow my own horn; but, believe me, if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today and he had five thousand dollars and he'd come to me things would have turned out differently.

  • Bowdlerise: The soundtrack cover had the above picture... with the handguns digitally removed.
  • The Cameo:
    • Lucy Liu as an heiress who shoots her philandering husband. At one point this part was to be played by Britney Spears.
    • There's also Taye Diggs as the man who announces the songs in Roxie's heads.
    • Dominic West as Fred Casely, the victim.
    • Chita Rivera, the original Velma, gets a line in the movie.
  • Casting Couch: Roxie is implied to have been sleeping with Fred Casely because he was lying about having connections in the show biz and finding her an act.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: All of the guilty inmates in the "Cell Block Tango" are shown dancing under blood-red lights and brandishing cloth of the same color. The lone innocent inmate instead has a striking motif of white.
  • Creator Cameo: Chita Rivera has a couple lines in the scene before Mama Morton arrives.
  • Downer Ending: On top of everything from the stage version, Billy Flynn's double-dealing destroys the career of the only non-corrupt ADA in the city. Though, even then, considering the dysfunctional personalities of the main characters and what happens later in history, their success is all but doomed.
  • Dream Sequence: Almost every song scene is actually Roxie's imagination. The difference between her daydreams and the reality are underlined a number of times.
  • Dripping Disturbance: In the film, a dripping tap is one of the noises Roxie hears as she tries to get to sleep on her first night in prison. It turns into part of the rhythmic accompaniment to "Cell Block Tango".
  • Hollywood Pudgy: Roxie snarks at Velma to "lay off the chocolates". On the other hand, Roxie isn't exactly a nice person.
    • I don't think Roxie actually considers Velma fat, she was getting revenge for Velma snubbing her earlier when Roxie was trying to suck up to her.
    • It was also a slight Actor Allusion, as Catherine Zeta-Jones was pregnant and fighting like hell to keep baby weight off during filming.
    • That's debatable. I don't believe Catherine knew she was pregnant until filming had wrapped. She smokes throughout the entire movie, as well. (Although Catherine Zeta-Jones was caught smoking at eight months pregnant once. Topless. In a hot tub. On a boat.)
  • Jerkass: Arguably everybody, but the most prominent examples are unusual in that they're the ones you'd expect to be sympathetic: the murder victim, the detective who arrests Roxie, and the uncorrupt assistant D.A. The victim is a married man with kids in a relationship with a married woman, stringing her along by pretending to have connections, and then abruptly dumps her when he's bored of her. The detective refers to Amos as "Goofy" while he's present, acts rudely to everyone, and flouts the fact that Roxie will be hanged. The assistant D.A. seems to push the death penalty for everyone, gets the innocent Hunyak hanged, and drops all charges on Velma Kelly, murderer of two, in exchange for testimony against Roxie Hart, murderer of one.
  • Male Gaze: Used intentionally in the movie's "All I Care About": Billy Flynn is singing about how all he cares about is love, and wants a girl with long hair and big eyes who needs him, while the camera is full of gyrating besequined butts.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Most of the TV promos for the movie made Roxie look like a more sympathetic character whose actions really were in self defense.
    • In the trailer, Velma tells Roxie "keep your paws off of my lawyer," when in fact the real line in the film is "keep your paws off my underwear."
  • Pretty in Mink: This was the jazz age, so furs were bound to turn up, at least in The Movie.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Roxie in the movie plays this for all it's worth in "Funny Honey".
  • Smoking Gun: In the film, Roxie's diary. Subverted, the diary was modified by Billy Flynn and then anonymously sent to the DA in order to make it seem that he had fabricated evidence.
  • Stripperiffic: The outfits the ladies wear in "Cell Block Tango" are made of this trope (with the exception of Hunyak's, which is a demure ballerina's getup). Flynn gets it, too - one of his numbers is a striptease.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: In the 2002 film version, Mama tucks some bribe money into her cleavage during her number.
  • Video Credits
  • Xanatos Gambit: In the film, Billy Flynn gives Roxie's diary to Velma Kelly, his other client, to give to the DA in exchange for having the charges against her dropped. He's modified the diary to include legal terms so that he can insinuate that the prosecutor wrote the whole thing. With one planted diary, he gets one client acquitted and the other released on a plea bargain.
  • You Would Make a Great Model: A Black and Grey Morality variant. The main character is sleeping with a man mainly because she thinks he's a producer who can help her career. He's not.

Other adaptations of the play provide examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Adaptation Distillation: In Roxie Hart, Amos did in fact shoot Fred Casely, but Roxie took the blame instead hoping to become famous. Also, Billy Flynn was the prosecutor, while Roxie ended up falling in love with the public defender. Regardless, it was still a satire of how the media influences the law.