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Chicago Digital Study Guide





Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the play Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins
Script adaptation by David Thompson
Directed and choregraphed by Donna Feore

House Program for Chicago

Grade Recommendation 8+

Content Advisory

This musical explores mature themes. It contains coarse language, sexual innuendo and the depiction of violence and death. Guns appear onstage. 


In 1920s Chicago, convent girl turned vaudeville wannabe Roxie Hart fatally shoots Fred Casely, the lover who has just dumped her. Claiming that the victim was stranger, a burglar, she initially manages to persuade her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap, but when Amos discovers the truth, he turns Roxie in, whereupon she is remanded to Cook County Jail to await trial.

Roxie's fellow inmates include half a dozen other murderesses, all of whom insist their victims had it coming. Among them is fading vaudeville star Velma Kelly, who killed her husband and sister after catching them in an act of adultery. Velma has a shady but silver-tongued defence lawyer, Billy Flynn, with whom the corrupt prison warden, Matron "Mama" Morton, offers to put Roxie in touch. Flynn agrees to take on Roxie's case as well, after she persuades Amos to pay his substantial fee.

Flynn artfully re-imagines Roxie's story for the benefit of the press - in particular, the tabloid journalist Mary Sunshine, who's always looking for a sob story - and the public is enthralled. As Roxie's celebrity skyrockets, Velma's declines, driving her in desperation to try to recruit Roxie as her new partner in the vaudeville act she had with her late sister - an offer that Roxie, with her eye on solo stardom, rejects with disdain.

Roxie herself, however, soon discovers how fleeting fame can be, and how grim the reality of her situation. How will she fare at trial? And if she escapes the noose, what kind of future lies ahead of her? 

Curriculum Connections

  • Global Competencies:
    • Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Learning to Learn/ Self-Awareness
  • Grade 8
    • The Arts
    • Health and Physical Education
    • Language
  • Grade 9-12
    • The Arts
    • English
    • Health and Physical Education
  • Grades 11-12
    • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • The Celebrity of "True Crime"
  • The Fallibility of Memory
  • Greed and Corruption
  • Media, Publicity and Journalistic Integrity
  • The Perversion of Justice
  • Putting On A Show: Truth vs Performance
  • The Roaring Twenties in Chicago, Illinois
  • Satire through Vaudeville
  • Women in Society and the Performance of Gender






  • Why do you think people love "true crime"?
  • Discuss examples of when mass media and social media could have influenced or manipulated the public's perception of events in the last couple of years. What persuasive tactics or arguments did they use?
  • Why might a story about crime, sex and celebrity status be appealing to audiences?
  • What qualities do we most admire in a celebrity? Why? What do we least admire and why?
  • What do you know about the 'Roaring Twenties'? What impact do you think this setting will have on the play?
  • In what ways can gender be seen as a performance? 
  • Is a crime ever justifiable? Why or why not?
  • Who gets to decide what justice is? Do you believe the right people are making those decisions? Why or why not?
  • "Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear" is a popular phrase. What do you think it means? Do you agree?


  • In what ways did the Merry Murderesses use society's view of women to their advantage?
  • Why do you think the creators of Chicago used the vaudeville genre to tell this story? In what ways was this successful? What might have been lost in using this genre?
  • Which character did you most admire and trust in the musical? Why? What was it about the character that made such an impact on you?
  • Which character did you least admire and trust? Why? What was it about the character that made such an impact on you?
  • Does this musical resonate with today's gender and gender identity issues, power, politics and social media? Why or why not?



Objective: This exercise invites students to explore the primary sources that inspired this musical and to analyze the ways in which the media influences society.

Materials: Articles 1, 2, and 3 written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, image of Beulah Annan and image of Belva Gaertner in the Chicago Tribune (then called the Chicago Daily Tribune), sticky notes or highlighters, writing utensils, black/white board or chalk/markers. 


  • Let students know the following:
    • In the 1920s, the Chicago press and public were fixated on crimes committed by women.
    • Chicago Tribune reporter, Maurine Dallas Watkins, covered these trials and later wrote a play based on some of their sensational stories.
    • Maurine Dallas Watkins' articles about Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, along with other papers' coverage at the time, contributed to the sensationalization of these cases. That could have played a part in the women being found not guilty by the courts.
    • In the 1960s, actress Gwen Verdon, director-choreographer Bob Fosse, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb created Chicago, a vaudeville-style musical satirizing crime, sex and celebrity status based on Watkins' play.
      • Sensationalism is an editorial tactic used to excite the greatest number of readers as possible.
      • Bias is a positive or negative attitude towards something, often formed from preconceived notions or prejudices rather than evidence
  • Ask students to share where they tend to hear about the news. Document their answers on the board. 
  • Divide the class into groups of three to five students each. 
  • Give sticky notes and one of the three articles by Watkins to each group.
  • Ask students to annotate their article as a group, using sticky notes or highlighters, marking all adjectives used and choosing three sentences that reveal bias.

Possible Extension

  • Pick a benign headline from the current news and read the article as a class. Have students rewrite this headline with the purpose of getting more people to click on it. Discuss your choices in sensationalizing the news as a class. How might each headline influence readers? Do the headlines still reflect the facts of the news story?

Debriefing Questions

  • What did you notice about the adjectives used by Watkins in her article?
  • What surprised you about the article?
  • What did Watkins' writing reveal to you about gender norms in 1920s Chicago?
  • Choose one sentence as a class and re-write it with the aim of removing bias.
  • Did this exercise change your opinion of the media? Why or why not?


Razzle Dazzle: Glitter, Glam and Glitz at the Stratford Festival is an archival exhibit examining showstopping costumes, jewellery, props, designs and more from our Archives. The display revisits the spectacle of seasons past in order to celebrate the Stratford debut of Chicago.

What role do costumes, jewellery and props play in telling a story?

When working on a new production, why might a designer want to look at costumes and props from past productions? 


Members of the company in My One and Only, 2007. Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. May. Directed by Michael Lichtefeld. Set design by Douglas Paraschuk. Costume design by David Boechler. Lighting design by Kevin Fraser. Photograph by David Hou. h by David Hou. Stratford Festival Archives, My One and Only Image 1194 .


Kyle Blair as Billy Lawlor with members of the company in 42nd Street, 2012. Book by Michael Stewart. Lyrics by Al Dubin. Music by Harry Warren. Directed by Gary Griffin. Designed by Debra Hanson. Lighting design by Paul Miller. Photograph by David Hou. Stratford Festival Archives, GPO.2012.001.1046

The Stratford Festival's Archives maintains, conserves and protects records about the Festival and makes those materials available to people around the world. Their collection contains material ranging from 1952 right up to the present and includes administrative documents, production records, photographs, design artwork, scores, audio-visual recordings, promotional materials, costumes, props, set decorations and much more. These materials are collected and preserved with the aim of documenting the history of the Festival, preserving the page-to-stage process, and capturing the creative processes involved in numerous other activities that contribute to the Festival each season.  

In addition to visiting the Archives in person, you can explore a selection of their holdings via their online catalogue.



House Program - Chicago

Trailer - Chicago

Study Guide PDFChicago

Costume Designer Dana Osborne discusses the costumes for the 2022 production of 'Chicago'

Maurine Dallas Watkins - The Indiana History Blog

Musical Theatre and Law: Chicago, The Musical

Booking Information: Tickets, Workshops, Chats and Tours

Student Matinées

You may book any available date, but selected student matinée performances for this show are at 2 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, September 13th
  • Thursday, September 22nd
  • Tuesday, September 27th
  • Wednesday, September 28th
  • Tuesday, October 4th
  • Thursday, October 6th
  • Friday, October 7th
  • Wednesday, October 12th
  • Tuesday, October 18th
  • Friday, October 21st
  • Thursday, October 27th
  • Friday, October 28th 

Workshops, Chats and Tours

Pre or Post-Show Workshops, Chats and Tours (virtual, onsite or at your school/centre) can be booked by calling the Box Office at 1.800.567.1600.




Tools for teachers include Prologues, Study Guides and Stratford Shorts.       


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