by Chris Davis
What a scene. It's springtime in Chicago, 1924, and Beulah Annan, a glamorous gin-soaked jazz baby has just shot her lover Harry Kalsted. Instead of running away she pours another drink, puts a record on the Victrola and plays it over and over again for hours before calling her husband and telling him she'd gunned down an intruder who'd threatened her honor.
By the time the cops arrive Annan— the real life Roxie Hart— is loaded up on illegal hooch. The song still playing on the Victrola: "Hula Lou." Some sample lyrics:
Her name was Hula Lou
Kinda gal that never could be true
She did her dancin’ in the evenin’ breeze
Beneath the trees
Oh how she used to shake her BVDs
As a reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins had covered Beulah Annan's case. She later wrote a play called Chicago that was adapted into a stage musical by Bob Fosse, John Kander and Fred Ebb. Chicago, which opens tonight (March 9) at Theatre Memphis has gone on to become one of the most popular and longest running Broadway musicals of all time. The 2002 film adaptation won six Oscars including Best Picture.
But it's hard to improve on that opening musical number. The real one, that is.
Between 1915 and 1924 there were several recordings with Hula Lou in the title. If Annan was current in her music collection—as any glamorous flapper would be— she was probably listening to a version recorded by the Sam Lanin Orchestra in January of 1924 or one released the following month by Billy Jones. Both were on the Regal label.
Here's the Billy Jones version.
Theatre Memphis's Chicago features former American Idol contestant Alexis Grace as Roxie Hart. Lindsey Roberts takes on Velma Kelly who's based on the equally colorful Belva Gaertner, a twice-divorced cabaret singer who got blind drunk and shot her lover in a jealous rage.