My post yesterday about the “Chicago” revival’s 15th anniversary inspired me to put on the 1975 original cast recording. I would humbly argue that “Chicago” is Kander and Ebb’s finest achievement: Every song is a knockout. I would less humbly argue that the 1975 original cast recording is the best way to enjoy the musical when at home.
The 1996 revival recording is very good, but whenever I conduct my own Pepsi Challenge, I consistently prefer the 1975 original. This could easily boil down to two words: Gwen Verdon. You just can’t match her. However, Jerry Orbach (“Law & Order”) is brilliant as slick lawyer Billy Flynn — years before he would become everyman cop Lennie Briscoe, and Barney Martin (“Seinfeld”) truly defines “Mr. Cellophane.” I’ve never heard a better version than his. The only exceptions are — perhaps telling for me — Bebe Neuwirth’s versions of “I Can’t Do It Alone” and “When Velma Takes the Stand.” No one can touch Neuwirth’s comedic timing. I also think the orchestra is overall tighter in the original.
Personal tastes aside, it’s ultimately academic because you should really own both recordings. Unfortunately, due to space limitations for vinyl, the 1975 recording lacks “I Know a Girl,” “Entr’acte,” and “Hot Honey Rag.” “Me and My Baby” is also truncated. The 1996 album has them all in full.
If you don’t already own the 1996 recording, I’d recommend picking up the two-disc 10th anniversary edition. You’ll get the revival plus some extras. Most are forgettable (Melanie Griffith singing “Me and My Baby” and a curiously cast Lynda Carter performing “When You’re Good to Mama”), but it’s worth the full price just to hear the Kander and Ebb demos “Ten Percent” and “Loopin’ the Loop.”
“Ten Percent” was cut from “Chicago.” David Hyde-Pierce explains why in this neat clip of him performing the song.
“Loopin’ the Loop” was intended to serve as the finale, but “Nowadays” replaced it because reportedly director/choreographer Bob Fosse wanted something “more glamorous.” I’d never second-guess Mr. Fosse, but I think “Loopin’ the Loop” would have solved the problem of “Chicago” not really having a song that’s about Chicago. However, “Loopin’ the Loop” lives on — sans vocals and with a snippet of “All That Jazz” at the start — as the “Overture,” which is a minute and a half of concentrated magic that never fails to perk up my mood when I hear it.
This is a Holy Grail clip I found on YouTube of 1975 “Chicago” rehearsals prior to the removal of “Loopin’ the Loop.” It’s the sort of thing you can’t believe exists.