On November 14, 1996, a sexy, stripped-down version of John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s Chicago opened at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre after a much-lauded Encores! debut. An immediate hit, the show won six 1997 Tony Awards, including Best Musical Revival, Best Actress (Bebe Neuwirth as merry murderess Velma Kelly) and Best Actor (James Naughton as lawyer Billy Flynn). Sixteen years and two theaters later, Chicago is going strong at the Ambassador Theatre. To mark its latest birthday, we’ve gathered 16 fun facts about this killer musical.
1. Chicago is based on a real-life 1924 Windy City murder case that was transformed by reporter Maurine Watkins into a 1926 Broadway comedy of the same name. Two film versions followed, including the 1942 release Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers.
2. Gwen Verdon persuaded her husband Bob Fosse to develop a musical version of Chicago in which she would play accused murderess Roxie Hart. The director/choreographer co-wrote the show’s book with lyricist Fred Ebb; John Kander composed the jazzy score. Verdon was joined by Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly in the 1975 Broadway premiere, which ran for 936 performances.
3. As artistic director of City Center’s Encores! series of staged concerts, Walter Bobbie planned a May 1996 mounting of Chicago as a tribute to Fosse. He hired the four leads—Bebe Neuwirth as Velma, Ann Reinking as Roxie, James Naughton as Billy and Joel Grey as Amos Hart—without holding auditions. The show moved to Broadway that fall, and Bobbie won a Best Director Tony Award the following spring.
4. The Chicago revival has played 24 countries in 12 languages.
5. Ten years after opening on Broadway as Velma, Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth jumped to the role of Roxie. Ruthie Henshall played both Velma and Roxie in the London production.
6. Ann Reinking, who won a 1997 Tony for choreographing Chicago “in the style of Bob Fosse,” first played Roxie in 1977 in Fosse’s original Broadway production.
7. Current star Billy Ray Cyrus is the 41st actor to play Billy Flynn on Broadway.
8. Chicago has received cast recordings in English (Broadway and London productions), German and Dutch.
9. Roxie and Velma toss out eight roses to the audience at the end of each performance. As of November 13, 2012, a total of 53,120 roses have been flung into the crowd.
10. Chicago now ranks as Broadway’s longest running revival and is the fourth longest running show of any kind.
11. Dancing With the Stars alums who have appeared in Chicago include George Hamilton, Harry Hamlin, Samantha Harris, Joey Lawrence, John O’Hurley, Lisa Rinna and Jerry Springer.
12. The multinational Broadway production has featured Roxies from Japan and England; Velmas from South Africa, Australia and Canada; Billys from Peru and London; and even a "Mama" from Colombia (Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara!).
13. Billy Ray Cyrus is the latest in a series of pop music stars who have appeared in Chicago, including Huey Lewis, Ashlee Simpson, Usher and Michelle Williams (of Destiny’s Child).
14. Chicago has played more than 15,000 performances worldwide to audiences totaling more than 17 million people.
15. In addition to its six Tony Awards, Chicago has won a Grammy for its original cast album, plus an Olivier Award, three El Heraldo Awards, three Asociacion Mexicana de Criticos de Teatro Awards, two Helpman Awards, four Guldmasken Awards and two Premio Qualidade Brasil Awards for its international productions.
16. Chicago has grossed more than $300 million on Broadway since 1996.