The revival of Chicago, the 1975 Bob Fosse musical, has been playing on Broadway and around the world for more than two decades, and is now the longest running American musical in Broadway history. That’s quite a turnaround from its original production. In 1975, Chicago had the bad luck to open the same season as A Chorus Line, and its cynical depiction of 1920s Windy City murder and corruption didn’t connect with audiences like the earnest, striving dancers who put their lives on the line for a chance at Broadway gold. Chicago was a hit but not a smash, ran a bit over two years, and didn’t entirely make back its capitalization. A Chorus Line was an instantly beloved show that ran 15 years and earned millions. Chicago went 0 for 11 at the Tony Awards, bested by A Chorus Line in every category, including Best Musical. But the culture finally caught up with Chicago when it reappeared two decades later. Its dark satire of collusion between media and the legal system, rejected by many in 1975, now had the sting of truth about it. The Chicago revival has gone on to surpass the original production of A Chorus Line by over 2,000 performances.
The Chicago revival features new choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse” by longtime keeper of the Fosse flame, Ann Reinking. But the concluding “Hot Honey Rag” is a recreation of Fosse’s original dance, formerly called “Keep It Hot.” Fosse made it a compendium of all the steps he learned as a young man working in vaudeville and burlesque—the Shim Sham, the Black Bottom, the Joe Frisco, “snake hips,” and cooch dancing—and made it the ultimate vaudeville dance act. Just as A Chorus Line’s closing number, “One,” has become an iconic musical moment, so Chicago’s finale, “Hot Honey Rag,” danced by the triumphant girls-who-got-away-with-it Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, is now a Broadway standard.
But who danced it best? Here’s an informal look at the wide-ranging interpretations of this classic musical comedy dance by performers from around the world.
1. Ruthie Henshall (Roxie) and Ute Lemper (Velma) created the roles in the West End production that began a fifteen-year run in 1997.
2. In 1999, Fosse, an anthology of his dances, won the Tony Award for Best Musical and played over 1,000 performances. Here, Dana Moore and Meg Gillentine perform “Hot Honey Rag” along with “Nowadays” during a performance filmed for PBS’s Dance in America series.
3. The 2002 film version of Chicago, choreographed and directed by Rob Marshall, became the first movie musical to win the Academy Award for Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968. Marshall slowed down and simplified the steps, but sped up the editing for Renée Zellweger (Roxie) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Velma).
4. New York’s annual “Broadway Backwards” concert puts a gender twist on iconic songs and dances. In 2014, Michael Berresse and Tony Yazbeck tackled “Nowadays” and “Hot Honey Rag” with macho bravado.
5. The roles of Roxie and Velma are glamorous, larger-than-life stars that make them naturals for drag queen appropriation. Here, two popular contestants from television’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bob the Drag Queen and Thorgy Thor, sashay their way through the number in 2016.
6. But there’s nothing quite like the original. Here’s Roxie and Velma, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, performing the complete “Nowadays” and “Hot Honey Rag” from the show’s original 1975 production.
Featured image credit: “Chicago the Musical Banners on Broadway” by Broadway Tour. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.