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
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
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
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker