Boisterous. Showstopping. Chicago. A go-to musical if I ever saw one. Everything one could imagine in the 1920s– jazz, sex, drama, and homicide– incorporated into one phenomenal performance. The perfect blend of satire, music, crime, and gossip set in prohibition-era Chicago leaves audiences wanting more. No, needing more.
From the music and the dances, to the crime and the fame, Chicago presented a satirical view of the correctional system, lawyers, and media involved in trials during the 1920s– especially in cases involving women. Chicago shows a world where crooked lawyers and a public who craves violence is as frightening as criminals and their crimes. The main murderess featured in the musical, Roxie Hart, finds herself engaged in her image and becoming more obsessed with fame, and less concerned with being acquitted.
The director knew that a society where killers become stars was not far fetched. In fact, it can be found in contemporary society. People talk of criminals receiving their “five minutes of fame”, and that is what the director pulls from. In Act II, Roxie Hart’s lawyer, Billy Flynn, sings “Razzle Dazzle” which conveys this message of criminal celebrities. Its message is simple. If you want the press, or the jury, or society to believe you and rule for your innocence, you just have to “razzle dazzle” them like a high schooler’s elaborate proposal for prom.
As well as dramatizing our society’s habit to give attention to criminals, it also strays away from some of the gender stereotypes of that time. While there are features like “We Both Reached for the Gun”– a piece that shows Roxie and the press as marionette puppets being controlled by Billy Flynn, the male lead– which show us society’s view on the role of women, there are also pieces throughout the musical that contradicted the gender roles norm.
Cell Block Tango” is sung by the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail. The production depicts six women who have murdered men in their lives. It presents them as strong women who stood up for themselves– even if how they handled it was not ideal. They were fierce and sassy, which made it the perfect musical number to show that women in that era would not be pushed around.
On the other hand, Roxie Hart’s husband, Amus, is pushed around and deceived by Roxie. In his feature “Mr. Cellophane”, the mood completely changes. It is one of the only slow songs in the production, and shows the opposite of what men in that era were made out to be. Through lines such as “you can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there”  he was described as shy, outspoken, and compassionate to a fault.
The director captured the perfect 1920s scene through society and gender standards. The perfect blend of strong, independent women; an outspoken, pushed aside husband; and a stubborn, fame-obsessed lawyer create a must see musical. After all, who can resist “All that Jazz”?