Choreographer Bob Fosse's redheaded wife Gwen Verdon first played Roxie Hart, the blowzy jazz-age blonde whose homicidal tendencies land her in prison on "merry murderess" row; subsequent Roxies have included Fosse's other muse, Broadway veteran Ann Reinking; stage neophyte Melanie Griffith; and Oscar winner Renée Zellweger. Roxie carries most of Chicago's dramatic weight, along with co-vixen Velma Kelly (Bebe Neuwirth on Broadway, Catherine Zeta-Jones on celluloid), and defense lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere in the film version).
The casting of those crucial roles in S.F.'s Chicago run has its own twists, including Bianca Marroquin as a Roxie from Mexico City, original Dreamgirl Brenda Braxton as Velma, and, in an exclusive local appearance, former Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson -- who likely knows something about slick -- playing the slippery Flynn. As prison matron Mama Morton, Tony nominee Marcia Lewis Bryan takes up where Queen Latifah left off.
Chicago doesn't actually need the extra ink it might have gained by casting a boy-toy idol and Broadway luminaries; its white-hot jazz dance and stinging lyrics speak for themselves, and its knowing comedy is more timely than ever. It's easy to imagine Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, the original Velma and Roxie who murdered their men in the 1920s and inspired reporter Maurine Watkins to write a comedy based on the ensuing media circus, defending themselves on Jerry Springer. Maybe the show's creators were prescient; maybe, in the parlance of the play itself, we had it coming.