Amra-Faye Wright as Velma Kelly with cast. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
John Kander and Fred Ebb's Chicago, a tune-filled satire on corruption and society's propensity for turning criminals into celebrities, first landed on Broadway in 1975. The original production enjoyed a healthy 936-performance run. In 1996, City Center Encores! presented Chicago in concert, and an expanded version of the concert found its way to Broadway later that year. Now, almost 20 years later, Chicago is both the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.
Musical Director, Leslie Stifelman, has been with Chicago since the City Center Encores! concert. She started out as the keyboard player under Rob Fisher, but as of 13-years ago is now the musical director.
Some may think hearing and working on the same music eight times a week for 20 years would get awfully boring, but Steifelman looks forward to every performance. "I've put in over 215 principals into the show, so that keeps it pretty exciting," says Stifelman. She performed with the star-studded original Broadway revival cast (Joel Grey, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Ann Reinking) and has taught the show to celebrities like Michael C. Hall, Usher, Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Nettles, among others. "From the very beginning it was really, really special," says Stifelman. "So, it's really easy to come to work every day."
Leslie Stifelman and the Chicago sign. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
This musical has sentimental appeal for Stifelman as well. In her capacities as musical director, she met the woman who became her wife. Now, the couple has a young son together. "He loves the show. He's here a lot. He has seen it 10, maybe 20, times," says Stifelman. "He's been saying '5-6-7-8' since he was born, he loves 'All That Jazz,' and he's playing several instruments already because he loves the band and loves the music."
For audiences, the magic of the show lies in the story, the music, and Ann Reinking's iconic and Tony Award-winning choreography inspired by Bob Fosse's vision for the original Broadway production. "The characters are so well-drawn, so well-represented in the story, and it gets so well-told that it is exciting and fresh every day," says Stifelman. "And, for better or for worse, the story of celebrity and the criminal justice system is an enduring story. It hasn't changed at all."
While a 20-year-run can never be predicted, this staging and production of Chicago has had that certain oomph that packs houses and entertains audiences with ease since it first opened. "I think everybody can pretty much tell you that the first applause that we heard at City Center was astonishing. It really made us gasp," recalls Stifelman. "And it has just been that way ever since."