Thu, Aug 10, 2017 - Page 13 News List

All that jazz

Fallen women, jazz and murderess row — the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall theater will be transformed into prohibition-era Chicago of the 1920s and the Cook County Jail as the Bob Fosse musical ‘Chicago’ opens on Wednesday

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Amra-Faye Wright, center, as alleged murderess Velma Kelly, leads the cast of the hit musical Chicago, which opens at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei on Wednesday.

Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

Chicago, Illinois, in the 1920s was awash with change, jazz and violence. Passage of the 18th Amendment to the US constitution made alcohol illegal on Jan. 17, 1920, the same year the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.

In Chicago, gangsters such as Al Capone and Bugs Moran made fortunes smuggling liquor across the border from Canada and distributing it across the county. The city became synonymous for two “Gs” and two “Cs”: gin, guns, corruption and celebrity criminals, as bloody gangland battles for control of the bootleg trade made newspaper headlines across the country, along with a number of women who stood trial for killing their lovers or husbands.

Cook County Jail even had a “murderess row,” a section set aside just for women awaiting trial for murder. Two of its most famous detainees, Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, had allegedly shot their lovers, and despite initially confessing to the crimes, were acquitted.

Starting on Wednesday, Taipei will get a glimpse of the Windy City’s wild side when the Bob Fosse musical Chicago opens at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

The musical, and the play it is based on, have almost as storied a history as the shows’ main characters.

Reporter and aspiring playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins covered the trials of Annan and Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune and was outraged at how the judicial system was manipulated, the idea of celebrity criminals and the unwillingness of all-male juries to believe that women, especially young, pretty ones, could be murderers.

She channeled disgust into a play, titled The Brave Little Women, which eventually opened as Chicago and became a hit on Broadway in 1926.

Performance Notes

WHAT: Chicago

WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 16 to Aug. 27, evenings at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm. No show on Aug. 21

WHERE: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館), 505, Renai Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市仁愛路四段505號)

ADMISSION: NT$1,600 to NT$4,800; available online at and convenience store ticket kiosks.


The leading characters of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly were loosely based on Annan and Gaertner, while the character of Billy Flynn was drawn from Annan’s attorneys, William Scott Stewart and W.W. O’Brien.

Watkin’s play did well in New York City, and toured the US for two years. It was made into a silent movie under the same name in 1927, and in 1942 was turned into a movie titled Roxie Hart.

US choreographer, director and filmmaker Bob Fosse tried for years to get permission from Watkins to turn the play into a musical, but she refused.

After she died in 1969, Fosse, his wife Gwen Verdon and producer Richard Frye were able to buy the rights to the play from Watkins’ estate. Fosse turned to the legendary songwriting team of John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) for help in making Watkin’s play into a musical. Kander and Ebb’s hits included the musical Cabaret, which Fosse had made into a film that won eight Academy Awards after its release in 1972.

Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville, directed and choreographed by Fosse, opened on Broadway in 1975, starring Verdon as Hart, and ran for 936 performances. It made its London debut in 1979.

The show was revived on Broadway in 1996, nine years after Fosse’s death, with choreography by Ann Reinking, a protegee of Fosse who had played the Hart role in 1977. The show won six Tony Awards, including Best Choreography for Reinking and a Grammy for Best Musical Cast Recording.

The 1996 revival has gone on to become the longest-running US musical in Broadway history, with touring productions that have covered the US and much of the world, while a 2002 movie based on the musical, directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall and starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere and Queen Latifah, introduced the tale of Hart and Kelly to a whole new generation and won six Academy Awards the following year.

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