"LIZA MINNELLI stepped into the role of Roxie Hart on the condition that there be no announcement in the press and that Ms. Verdon's name remain on the marquee and the ads."

In August of 1975, Liza showed visible proof of her strength & talent
when she substituted for five weeks for GWEN VERDON,
appearing in the Broadway run of the hit show, CHICAGO, opposite CHITA RIVERA.
With only one week of rehearsal time and no public announcement,
Liza played to standing-room audiences, garnering critical and public acclaim.

I had just moved to New York prior to the opening of the Kander and Ebb musical, Chicago. I eagerly awaited this production because it had two of my favorite Broadway stars, Chita Rivera and Gwen Verdon. I was dyin' to see it, so I bought tickets at the box office no less. The day of the show came and the performance was cancelled for some reason. I think it was technical problems with an elevator. I was disappointed to say the least. I wanted to see Gwen Verdon so bad; I had only heard about her in Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity and all those other musicals she did. Gwen is a legend, and well, Chita is no slouch either. Actually, Chita is a sweetheart, gosh, how I love her. We became friends during the run of Chicago.

A few weeks later, I got a phone call from an out of town friend, a theatre critic and he asked if I wanted to go to the theatre. "Does a bear...?", "Is the pope...", you get the drift. But, he says to me, "the tickets are for Chicago, and it's going to be a special night." I knew the show was in trouble. It got mixed reviews also, but still, I wanted to see Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Yeah, you too, Jerry Orbach, in case you're reading this!

We arrived at my very favorite house on Broadway, the 46th Street Theatre, now called the Richard Rogers, had a drink in the lobby, and kibbitzed theatre talk and then took our seventh row aisle seats. This guy has clout, I thought, to get these seats. The house lights dimmed, and then the announcement:

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. At this performance, the role of Roxie Hart, normally played by Gwen Verdon..."

The whole theatre groaned. My friend poked me in the ribs, seeing my disappointment, and mouthed the word, wait! I was so down; I thought I would never see Gwen perform. The announcer continued:

"...will be played by LIZA MINNELLI!"

The audience went nuts, me too! LIZA in Chicago. Who knew? There was no advance word. It was a well guarded secret. Here's the inside info. Gwen Verdon was sick at the time, and Fosse knew his musical was doomed, so he went to Liza and asked her to take over. She agreed, and as a result, Liza turned in a smashing performance as Roxie Hart. And yes, she even did the cart wheel that Fosse choreographed for Verdon and Rivera. It was a terrific night in the theatre. Liza did it for a month while Gwen nursed back to health. I, of course, returned to see Gwen a few times.

After Liza left the show, Bob Fosse presented her with a solid gold life-saver charm for saving the original production of Chicago. When Gwen left, she was replaced by Ann Reinking who also was another great Roxie Hart. - 1997 Talkin' Broadway! All Rights Reserved

The Tony-winning duo also discuss Liza's return to Broadway when she stepped into the cast of Chicago during Gwen Verdon's brief illness:

Kander: When Gwen was sick during Chicago, Liza took over for eight weeks and she came close to making the show a hit.

Ebb: She did all of Gwen's blocking.

Kander: She learned that show in a week.

Ebb: I guess I should confess this. I had been with Liza in California, and when we were on our way back to New York on the plane, when I knew Liza was going to do Chicago, I was egging her on to get little things back into the show that I lost during my collaboration with Fosse. I desperately wanted "My Own Best Friend" to be a song just for Roxie. That was the way it was originally supposed to be done. But Bobby took that song and added Chita as Velma. He had them at the edge of the stage, obviously mocking the high-end cabaret singers with their phony Oh-look-at-me attitude. He hated songs like

Kander: "I Did It My Way."

Ebb: And "I Gotta Be Me." He hated them. And this was his take on how you would sing "My Own Best Friend" if you were that kind of performer. I thought what he did belittled the song. But Liza knew she had power coming into the show, and on the plane she told me, "I'll get it back." During a rehearsal, she said, "Bobby, I would like to sing this number by myself." That meant having Chita not come out, which was fine with Chita. The first night that Liza sang it, she got a tremendous hand, and she whispered into the microphone, "How about that Bobby!" I don't know who heard her. To me it was like she had yelled it out.

Kander: I never heard that.

Ebb: I was frightened that she said it. "How about that, Bobby." But she idolized him. I remember when we did Liza with a Z, Bobby made "Ring Them Bells" a production number. . . "

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"I Am My Own Best Friend"
"All That Jazz!"

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