Chicago, Illinois. The 1920s are roaring with hot jazz and cold-blooded killers. As the Overture ends, we're introduced to Velma Kelly-- a vaudevillian who shot her husband and the other half of her sister act when she caught them in bed together. Velma invites us to sample All That Jazz while showing us the story of chorus girl Roxie Hart's cold-blooded murder of nightclub regular Fred Casely. Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and he cheerfully takes the rap. Roxie expresses her appreciation in song (Funny Honey) until the police reveal to Amos that Roxie knew the burglar, shall we say, intimately, and Amos decides to let her swing for herself. Roxie's first taste of the criminal justice system is the women's block in Cook County Jail, inhabited by Velma and other merry murderesses (Cell Block Tango). The women's jail is presided over by Matron "Mama" Morton whose system of mutual aid (When You're Good To Mama) perfectly suits her clientele. She has helped Velma become the media's top murder-of-the-week and is acting as booking agent for Velma's big return to vaudeville (after her acquittal, naturally). Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Eagerly awaited by his all girl clientele, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fandancers to prove that (quote) "All I Care About is Love." Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine, who always tries to find A Little Bit of Good in everyone. Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached For the Gun") while Roxie mouths the words. ROXIE becomes the new toast of Chicago, and Velma's headlines, trial date and career are left in the dust. Velma tries to talk Roxie into recreating the sister act (I Can't Do It Alone) but Roxie turns her down, only to find her own headlines replaced by the latest sordid crime of passion. Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there's no one they can count on but themselves (My Own Best Friend), and the ever-resourceful Roxie decides that being pregnant in prison would put her back on the front page.
Back after the Entr'acte, Velma cannot believe Roxie's continual run of luck (I Know a Girl) despite Roxie's obvious falsehoods (Me and My Baby). A little shy on the arithmetic, Amos proudly claims paternity and still nobody notices him, Mr. Cellophane. Velma desperately tries to show Billy all the trick's she's got planned for her trial (When Velma Takes the Stand). Billy's forte may be showmanship (Razzle Dazzle), but when he passes all Velma's ideas on to Roxie, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, Mama and Velma lament the demise of Class. As promised, Billy gets Roxie her acquittal but, just as the verdict is given, some even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away, and Roxie's fleeting celebrity is over. Left in the dust, she pulls herself up and extols the joys of life Nowadays. She teams up with Velma in that sister act (Nowadays), in which they dance their little hearts out (Hot Honey Rag) 'til they are joined by the entire company for the grand Finale.
- Bill Rosenfield