THEATRE: Murder, sleaze and celebrity

Sensational murder trials and the media circuses that accompany them might seem like new phenomena, but as the musical Chicago shows, they've been around for years

At 10.55am on 27 November 1978, San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White shot and killed Mayor George Moscone with four bullets. He reloaded, ran through City Hall and killed Supervisor Harvey Milk with another four. At his trial, a psychiatrist for the defence argued that White's consumption of junk food led to vacillations in his blood-sugar level and exacerbated indications of manic depression. Instead of going down for murder, he walked away with a seven-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

In a surprising instance of self-control, the lawyers in the OJ Simpson trial didn't try the junk food defence. Nor did they say the plaintiff had been influenced by watching too many musicals, but one peek at the 1975 show Chicago would have revealed an extraordinary case of life imitating art.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, consider the facts laid before you in this musical. A woman shoots her lover and tries to pin the blame on someone else. It doesn't wash and she's banged up on murderer's row. She hires the flashiest lawyer in town who whips up a storm of publicity and turns the trial into a media circus. She becomes a national celebrity, the nation holds its breath: she gets off. I rest my case.

This collision between fact and fiction actually dates back to 1927, when Maurine Watkins turned a real-life story into a play and then a film called Chicago. Fifteen years later, Ginger Rogers played the title role in Roxie Hart, a tart, brittle, very funny screen version of the crime. Broadway star Gwen Verdon tried and failed to get the rights for years, but Watkins finally relented and left the property to her in her will. Verdon took the project to director and choreographer Bob Fosse who teamed up with lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander and the musical opened on Broadway in June 1975.

Three weeks later, A Chorus Line opened and everyone forgot Fosse's show. It ran for two years, but beneath the glamorous surface of this shimmering show, there's a jet black cynicism about American values and the judicial system which didn't endear it to the nation. One of its greatest strengths is that never for a moment does it soften up or go sentimental.

Two decades later, in the wake of OJ, you can't get a seat for the sensational New York revival: a musical has taken the pulse of the nation. Last I heard, the London production has clocked up a staggering advance in excess of pounds 2.5m, and it's still only in preview. Walk past the theatre and you'll see the happy sign announcing "House Full". If the legal hoop-la surrounding the Louise Woodward trial is anything to go by, I think we can assume that a peculiarly high percentage of the audience on both sides of the Atlantic have been lawyers.

Adelphi Theatre, London W1 (0171-344 0055)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

    £24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

    Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral