A Little History Behind Chicago & Twelfth Night

This summer the Duluth Playhouse Teen Intensive will be performing the musical Chicago, and William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Before you come down to the Depot from August 11th to the 21st, we’d like to give you a little bit of the history of the two shows.

Chicago originated from a 1926 play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Maurine Dallas Watkins was a reporter who covered the trials of Beulah Annan, the basis for Roxie Hart, and Belva Gaertner, the basis for Velma Kelley. The two became stars in 1924 for their separate murder trials, as it was a time when the Chicago press and public were fascinated by the murder trials of attractive young women. Due to the popularity of Watkins’ columns on the murder cases, she decided to turn them into the basis for a play she would call Chicago.

A "Roxie Hart" poster from 1942

A “Roxie Hart” poster from 1942

The show was a success, running for 172 performances on Broadway. It was adapted into a silent film named Chicago in 1927 and then remade as Roxie Hart in 1942. The roots of the musical version of Chicago start in the 1960s, when Gwen Verdon, the wife of legendary choreographer, actor, and director Bob Fosse, read the play and asked him to adapt it to a musical that she could star in. Fosse ran into a roadblock when born-again Christian Maurine Dallas Watkins refused to sell him the rights, as she believed her play to glorify an obscene lifestyle. However, her death in 1969 let Fosse, Verdon, and producer Richard Fryer buy the rights, and Fosse set to work with writers John Kander and Fred Ebb to create the musical.

Chicago premiered on Broadway on June 3rd, 1975, at that time performed as Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville. It did fairly well, running for 936 performances. However, the show became the hit it is today with its 1996 Broadway revival. The show was met with critical praise, winning 6 Tony Awards, and inspiring a Best Picture winning 2002 film adaptation. It is still running on Broadway, standing as the longest-running musical revival, the longest-running American musical, and the second longest-running show in Broadway history.

Fully titled Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Twelfth Night is a William Shakespeare play completed somewhere from 1600 to 1601, and performed in 1602. It is largely believed that Twelfth Night took much of its material from the 1531 Italian comedy Gl’ingannati (The Deceived Ones), along with Barnabe Riche’s “Apollonius and Silla” in 1581. The title of Twelfth Night refers to the twelfth night after Christmas day, known as the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. It’s a holiday of people switching roles, with servants dressing up as their masters, men dressing as women, and so on and so on. This holiday of licensed disorder where the order of things is inverted influences the gender disguises and confusion that runs amok throughout Twelfth Night.

A 1796 painting of a "Twelfth Night" scene by William Hamilton.

A 1796 painting of a “Twelfth Night” scene by William Hamilton.

Twelfth Night has become one of Shakespeare’s most-produced plays today. It’s been performed from Shakespeare’s Globe, to Broadway, to everywhere in between. Throughout the years it has starred accomplished actors and actresses such as Laurence Olivier, Diana Rigg, Anne Hathaway, Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart to name a few. Most recently, an all-male production starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry played sold out runs on the West End and Broadway in 2012-13 to critical acclaim.

There have been many adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in film and on the stage. There’s an 1820 operetta by Frederick Reynolds and Henry Bishop. There are the musicals Your Own Thing from 1968 and Music Is from 1977, and Peter Mills’ Illyria from 2004. There are the jukebox musicals Play On! from 1997 and All Shook Up from 2005, using the music of Duke Ellington and Elvis Pressley respectively. There’s the 1999 play Epiphany, an all women production that delves deeper into ideas of actors and gender in theatre. In film, Twelfth Night has been adapted into a 1910 silent short film, a 1986 Australian film, and a 1996 film starring Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley. The play has been made into modernized adaptations with Disney Channel’s Motocrossed in 2001, and She’s The Man in 2006. Twelfth Night has a great story, and it continues to touch people today in a variety of venues.

The "She's The Man" poster from 2006.

The “She’s The Man” poster from 2006.

To see the latest versions of these shows, come down to the Duluth Playhouse to see the Teen Intensive productions from August 11th to the 21st!

GET TICKETS!

What: Chicago and Twelfth Night
When: August 11-21, 2016
Time: Thursday-Saturday @ 7pm, Sunday @ 2pm
Tickets: Adults – $17, Youth/Students – $14
Purchase: Online (click Chicago or Twelfth Night) or call 218.733.7555

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