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On a hot Chicago night, a jazz singer named Velma Kelly kills her husband and her sister.
The she puts on a solo show at the Onyx Club that first brings the house down... and then brings the cops to collect her and her murderous, fishnet-stockinged butt.
That fierce, fateful performance is witnessed by Roxie Hart, who has stars in her eyes and wants to be a jazz singer just like Velma.
Maybe without the murder.
Or maybe not.
Roxie, who is cheating on her husband with a man named Fred, plugs Fred in a fit of rage after he insults her talent by saying she has none. He fires off his mouth, she fires a gun. Even trade, right?
Roxie is thrown in the slammer. The warden is a brassy broad named Matron "Mama" Morton, who Roxie imagines singing a delicious little ditty about how bribery gets you by in prison. Or should we say, bribery gets you buy? (No, we shouldn't.)
Her first night alone in her cell, Roxie imagines how the other women got there—in a rousing rendition of the "Cell Block Tango," starring none other than Velma Kelly. Yep, Velma is behind these bars, too.
Worried she might hang for murder, Roxie needs to get the best attorney in the biz. Mama recommends Billy Flynn, a man who has never lost a case for a woman, and who only costs $5,000. That's about $60,000 in modern day buckaroos.
Roxie's simpering sap of a husband, Amos, ponies up some of the cash, and Billy Flynn decides to auction off some Roxie memorabilia to make up the difference.
What's that? An auction? But Roxie isn't even famous...who would want her stuff? Well, Billy manipulates the press—and therefore the public—into seeing Ms. Hart as a victim and broken woman fighting for her life rather than a cruel murderess.
The public goes wild, and Roxie becomes an infamous celebrity overnight. Velma watches as her career potential dissolves through her fingers, so she proposes a deal to Roxie: the two of them team up and form a bombastic jazz duo as soon as they get out of jail. Roxie politely declines. And by politely, we mean she blows a raspberry at Velma and insults her weight.
Soon, another murderess shows up in the prison, so Roxie fakes a pregnancy to get the spotlight back on her. Thankfully she goes to trial quickly, so she doesn't have to fake her pregnancy. Billy plants a fake diary and accuses the prosecuting attorney of faking the diary, thereby getting Roxie a not-guilty verdict on a technicality.
If the diary's vocabulary don't fit, you must acquit.
Ready to hit the stage, Roxie's shooting star to fame immediately crashes and burns. Literally seconds after the paper goes out with Roxie as front-page news, another woman shoots another man—and Roxie's paper is trampled in the mud.
Roxie leaves Amos and goes on auditions, but she has trouble scraping together a career. With perfect timing, Velma returns with another proposal that she and Roxie team up... because two jazz murderesses are better than one. This time, Roxie takes Velma up on it, and she imagines their swinging jazz show and all the acclaim and praise they will receive: applause, roses, their names in lights, and all that jazz.