I had just moved to New York prior to the opening of the Kander and Ebb musical, Chicago. I eagerly awaited this production because it had two of my favorite Broadway stars, Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon. I was dyin' to see it, so I bought tickets at the box office no less. The day of the show came and the performance was cancelled for some reason. I think it was technical problems with an elevator. I was disappointed to say the least. I wanted to see Gwen Verdon so bad; I had only heard about her in Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity and all those other musicals she did. Gwen is a legend, and well, Chita is no slouch either. Actually, Chita is a sweetheart, gosh, how I love her. We became friends during the run of Chicago.
A few weeks later, I got a phone call from an out of town friend, a theatre critic and he asked if I wanted to go to the theatre. "Does a bear...?", "Is the pope...", you get the drift. But, he says to me, "the tickets are for Chicago, and it's going to be a special night." I knew the show was in trouble. It got mixed reviews also, but still, I wanted to see Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Yeah, you too, Jerry Ohrbach, in case you're reading this!
We arrived at my very favorite house on Broadway, the 46th Street Theatre, now called the Richard Rogers, had a drink in the lobby, and kibbitzed theatre talk and then took our seventh row aisle seats. This guy has clout, I thought, to get these seats. The house lights dimmed, and then the announcement:
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. At this performance, the role of Roxie Hart, normally played by Gwen Verdon..."
The whole theatre groaned. My friend poked me in the ribs, seeing my disappointment, and mouthed the word, wait! I was so down; I thought I would never see Gwen perform. The announcer continued:
"...will be played by Liza Minelli!"
The audience went nuts, me too! Liza in Chicago. Who knew? There was no advance word. It was a well guarded secret. Here's the inside info. Gwen Verdon was sick at the time, and Fosse knew his musical was doomed, so he went to Liza and asked her to take over. She agreed, and as a result, Liza turned in a smashing performance as Roxie Hart. And yes, she even did the cart wheel that Fosse choreographed for Verdon and Rivera. It was a terrific night in the theatre. Liza did it for a month while Gwen nursed back to health. I, of course, returned to see Gwen a few times.
After Liza left the show, Bob Fosse presented her with a solid gold life-saver charm for saving the original production of Chicago.
When Gwen left, she was replaced by Ann Reinking who also was another great Roxie Hart.
It will be so much fun to return to Chicago this wednesday, after 20 years, to revisit my favorite show of all time, to see Ann again, and Bebe, and Joel and Matron Mama Morton and the gang.
Yes, Chicago, my kinda town, and very definately, my kinda' show!
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