if Chicago had opened in another season
Last Edit: Chazwaza 01:52 pm EDT 04/12/24
Posted by: Chazwaza 01:30 pm EDT 04/12/24
In reply to: re: CHICAGO versus MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG - HunterHailey 12:03 pm EDT 04/12/24

Gwen Verdon had been pushing for its development since the 60s, and work began initially, from what I can tell, after the playwright of the play died and her estate sold the rights to Verdon and Fosse in 1969. The show didn't open until 1975, nearly 6 years later.

If they'd worked faster and the elements came together for an earlier season (we are presuming the show would be the same show they finished in 75, just with less delays and snags)... i think the best bet for the success and awards it deserved were in 1970, if it was written VERY quickly. 1970 gave us Applause, the big Tony winner, Coco and Purlie (and forgotten musicals "Georgy" and "Billy"). Only 3 Best Musical nominees even, and Applause took it. But Applause is not a great show, though it was a crowd pleaser. Chicago could possibly have been the real star of that season, especially so much closer to Cabaret's game-changing original run, which won Best Musical in 1967 and didn't close until Sept 1969. But I wonder if the sex and cynicism of Chicago was too much for a late 60s broadway audience, even with a Cabaret primer.

But getting the show done in time to open for the 1970 Tonys is unlikely even if they were all solely focused on it from the day the rights got sold to them.

1970-71 was Company... a relatively weaker year otherwise, the other 2 Musical noms were The Rothschilds (and underrated show but still), and The Me That Nobody Knows, with dance-heavy revivals of 20s musicals No No Nanette and The Boy Friend. Perhaps Chicago would have been an interesting alternate 1920s musical, but I don't think it would have worked in its favor. And I think Company would still have been the daring and adult musical favorite of the season.

1971-72 was Two Gentlemen of Verona, Follies, Grease, Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, Jesus Christ Superstar (which got a Best Score nom but not Musical), 70 Girls 70, and revivals of Forum and On the Town. Plenty interesting season without adding Chicago, and I think the joy and youthful zest of Two Gentlemen as the antidote to Follies was much more in line with the time than what Chicago would bring. I think Chicago and Follies premiering in the same season is too much showbiz metaphor and bitterness and would have soured people more than inspired.

1972-73 Fosse was very busy with Pippin, so this unless Pippin had been put on hold there's no possibility -- and I think Chicago was probably better off with Fosse as an established directing star, rather than coming next after Sweet Charity, but maybe I'm wrong... but I do think there's a very natural progression of his stage work from Charity to Pippin to Chicago. This year he also won the Oscar and Emmy. (In this season, Pippin of course lost Musical and almost everything else to A Little Night Music, though Fosse beat Prince and Pippin became a long running hit. It also gave us a musical called Shelter, the mediocre Sugar and the Debbie Reynolds revival of Irene and revival of Lost in the Stars.

1973-74... this would really have been THE year to open Chicago. Fosse was in possibly the most incredible position any Broadway director/choreographer could ever be in. He had won his triple crown when he won a Tony for directing Pippin (also one for Choreo - his 6th choreo Tony win!), having just won an Oscar for Directing Cabaret, and an Emmy for Directing Liza with a Z.
The competition that season was weak, with Raisin, which took the Tony for Best Musical - and while it's a lovely show, it was a weak season - Over Here!, and Seasaw, and also Gigi, Cyrano, Lorelei (a revision of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), and Prince's first revival of Candide. And besides the competition being relatively weak, and none of the other new productions running had any similar elements or selling points as Chicago, it also didn't have A Chorus Line to compete with.
But he was busy directing the film Lenny... so, Chicago had to wait... sigh.

1974-75 was the season of The Wiz, and it's possible, since that wasn't a critical darling, that Chicago might have done well running against it. Two VERY different musicals, often good for the business of both, and the season was otherwise not super strong, Mack and Mabel sadly flopped (maybe it being of a similar time period and ultimately dark tells us that season wouldn't have been kind to Chicago?), Shenandoah, The Lieutenant, A Letter for Queen Victoria, the mostly ignore Rocky Horror Show, Goodtime Charley, and The Magic Show, a musical called Doctor Jazz, and one called Dance with Me... and the Lansbury revival of Gypsy and a revival of Where's Charley.

***If they'd held off a year or 2...
Which I'm not sure was in the cards for Verdon (she never did another Broadway show after Chicago, and didn't do much tv or film for years after), but I'm sure she'd still have done it if it took another couple years... after all, Chita did Spider Woman at 60, but Gwen at 50 was ready to be done with starring in dance-heavy broadway musicals, and Roxie was a role she'd wanted to play for a decade already.

But had they opened in 1976-77, they'd have been competing primarily against Annie. I do think the incredible contract of these two musicals would have done very well for Chicago, and it might even have won the big prize instead. It certainly would have won Best Actress.
The other weak competition that season was: I Love My Wife, Happy End, and the revue Side By Side By Sondheim, as well as Godspell (which went un-nominated except for Best Score), The Robber Bridegroom, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, and a revival and Porgy and Bess, King & I, Threepenny Opera, and the famous black cast revival of Guys and Dolls.

and in 1977-78... it would have dominated. Had Fosse not been doing Dancin'. But the big Tony winner for 78 Tonys was Ain't Misbehavin, with the other contenders being Dancin', Runaways, and On the Twentieth Century, Working, The Act, and Timbuktu... yes, if they'd held out, they'd have been a shining star, and while they'd still be competing with A Chorus Line, it would have been running for 2 years already.

I actually do wonder how it would have done in the early 80s. I think the nostalgia mixed with sex and greed would have made it possibly very popular. It would also have been very different than anything else being done. But maybe it really was just destined to HIT in the 90s, as it did.
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