Songs from Musicals: #37, “We Both Reached for the Gun,” from Chicago

Honorable mentions: “Roxie,” “Mr. Cellophane”

Did somebody say “period comedy involving murder?”

Chicago and Sweeney Todd are not exactly the same musical, but golly, they are close. The difference is Foucault: while the harsh sexual standards elide any real sex from Sweeney Todd, there’s also significantly more sexual freedom for characters like Todd and Mrs. Lovett to take part of; no one seems upset that they are pretty obviously bonking one another behind the scenes. In Chicago, where you can pinch a cheek and make it scream with sex, sexual relationships are harshly ordered; one could well argue that everyone just slept with their husbands and wives, there wouldn’t be a play at all, and no one would have to be punished or put in jail. What’s incredible is that Discipline and Punish appeared in English two years after Chicago hit Broadway.

“We Both Reached for the Gun” is a rousing number, a much better introduction to Billy Flynn than “All I Care About,” one that decides to focus on his manipulative style without the vaguely self-congratulatory irony that characterizes “All I Care About.” If one were inclined to summarize Chicago in five or six images, Billy would only need to be in two, and one of them would need to be him, pulling the strings like a puppeteer off the set of Thunderbirds, to get the whole picture. And in a musical where “vaudeville” appears in the subtitle, a song where almost all of the people on stage pretend to be marionettes is at least as vaudevillian as any torch song or undermanned dance routine or desperate plea for attention. The song also, to its credit, gets you to tap your feet just like those sucker reporters on the stage.

The spin cycles of 24-hour news stations function largely by repeating the same thing over and over again, “creating a narrative” (tawdry is as tawdry does) through shoving “affluenza teen” or “Benghazi” or “Don Lemon’s Perd Hapley impression” down the throats of millions and millions of people like the doctor from “The Use of Force.” It’s appropriate that, in the film’s rendition of “We Both Reached for the Gun,” at least, the final minute of the song is simply the repeated phrase, “Oh yes, they both reached for the gun” in a few different iterations. The media gets its marching orders and turns it into a headline that can be turned into gold. Once again, Chicago is ahead of the competition, even the good competition: it beat Network by one year, CNN by fifteen, and Fox News by twenty-one.

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