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
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam