Based on the real lives of two women, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, the Tony-winning musical Chicago is a nearly identical depiction of the historical court cases of the accused women. Their real-life accounts became a source of inspiration for reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins, who put the murderesses in the public eye, gaining them publicity and celebrity status.
Beulah Annan, who is the inspiration for the character of Roxie Hart, was married to multi-millionaire Albert Annan. Beulah had an affair with laundry worker Harry Kalstedt whom she murdered in cold blood. Her defense took on many forms. She told stories of how Kalstedt threatened to leave her, how she shot him in self-defense and that she was pregnant. She was reported to have sat idly by, drinking a cocktail and listening to a record after his death.
Belva Gaertner was a famous cabaret singer, and the inspiration for character Velma Kelly, known for killing her lover Walter Law. The man was found slumped over the front seat of her car with a bottle of gin and a gun present. Belva claimed that he shot himself for she couldn’t remember the incident. Both women were acquitted which became a controversial issue in their day.
Years after their infamous trials, Watkin’s stories inspired her to write the storyline for the hit production of Chicago, forever immortalizing the ladies in a life of gin, glamour and jazz.
The character of Billy Flynn, a suave, cunning attorney who comes to the legal aid of Roxie, is based off of two prominent lawyers who practiced during the 1920s. Flynn and Roxie discover a way to dodge the bullet (no pun intended) and pull off a legal scheme so grandiose that it “razzle dazzles” the court. With justice on their side, Velma and Roxie ascend to new levels of notoriety as they pursue their vaudevillian aspirations.
Director Carl Beck touched upon some elements and key components of the show that make for a dazzling performance. According to Beck, the OCP production of Chicago is an “incarnation of the original Bob Fosse 1970s production,” but is divergent from the stylized Broadway concert version. The feel of this production is a hybrid of historical authenticity tinged with nostalgia. Beck said the initial Fosse concept was attributed largely to vaudeville influence. Each signature number in the show is an homage paid to a vaudeville performer of that era. For instance, the character of Roxie Hart pays homage to late singer Sophie Tucker.
A celebration of femme fatale exploits and justice for the not-so-innocent, Chicago is the razzle dazzle, roaring 20s hit you won’t want to miss.
Chicago plays in the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre Sept. 16-Oct. 16, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $24 for students. For groups of 15 or more, adult tickets are $29 and student tickets are $18. To purchase tickets, call (402) 553-0800, stop into the Box Office on 69th and Cass or click here.
Article by Natalie McGovern