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It’s Joseph K's thirtieth birthday and he's about to settle down with some takeaway sushi. However, his delivery is intercepted by two men who have not only taken a bite out of his California roll but, rather more alarmingly, inform him that he is under arrest. He has no idea what he’s supposed to have done wrong but he's determined to clear his name. As he tries to make sense of his situation and to confront those who threaten his freedom, Joseph is thrown headlong into a fight against an invisible and illogical law.
The musical Chicago is based on a play of the same name by reporter and playwright Maurine Dallas Watkins, who was assigned to cover the 1924 trials of accused murderers Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner for the Chicago Tribune. In the early 1920s, Chicago's press and public became riveted by the subject of homicides committed by women. Several high-profile cases arose, which generally involved women killing their lovers or husbands. These cases were tried against a backdrop of changing views of women in the Jazz age, and a long string of acquittals by Cook County juries of female murderers (jurors at the time were all male, and convicted murderers generally faced death by hanging). A lore arose that, in Chicago, feminine or attractive women could not be convicted. The Chicago Tribune generally favoured the prosecution's case, while still presenting the details of these women's lives. Its rivals at the Hearst papers were more pro-defendant, and employed what were derisively called "sob-sisters" – women reporters who focused on the plight, attractiveness, redemption, or grace of the female defendants. Regardless of stance, the press covered several of these women as celebrities.