Cell Block Tango

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"The Cell Block Tango"
Song by Chita Rivera
from the album Chicago
Released1975 (1975)
Songwriter(s)Fred Ebb
Composer(s)John Kander

"Cell Block Tango" is a song from the 1975 musical Chicago, with music composed by John Kander and lyrics written by Fred Ebb.


At the Cook County Jail women's annex, six women explain their presence in the jail, all of whom stand accused of killing their significant others. "He had it coming" is a refrain throughout the number,[1] as each think their crime was justified. Each murder suspect is identified with a particular word that punctuates the song: "Pop! Six! Squish! Uh-uh! Cicero! Lipschitz!"

  • "Pop:" The first woman, Liz, killed her husband Bernie out of annoyance for his bubble gum popping habit,[2] which led her to end the nuisance: "I took a gun and fired two warning shots— into his head."[3][4]
  • "Six:" The second, Annie Young, moves in with a member of the Young family from Salt Lake City before recognizing that Ezekiel is a Mormon polygamist. He had six other wives (all the while claiming to be single during the courtship) and thus she poisoned him with arsenic in his drink.
  • "Squish:" The third woman, June, explains that her husband Wilbur had threateningly accused her of having an affair with the milkman while she was cooking dinner and that when he charged her, she stabbed him to death: "He ran into my knife. Ten times." (The "squish" is presumably the sound of the knife entering his body, and the story is ambiguous as to whether or not she was having said affair.)
  • "Uh-uh:" The fourth woman, Katalin "Hunyak" Helinszki, insists she had no involvement in the crime she is accused of committing, in stark contrast to the others. Speaking very little English, her story is instead told in Hungarian and translates:

    What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband while I chopped off his head. But it's not true. I am innocent. I don't know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn't understand me.

    Other than Velma, she is the only member of the sextet to reappear later in the musical; she eventually is falsely convicted and hanged, setting up Roxie Hart's climactic trial.
  • "Cicero:" The fifth woman is Velma Kelly, one of the stars of the musical. Her story is that she had caught her husband Charlie doing a provocative acrobatics maneuver with her sister and vaudeville partner Veronica while they were performing in the suburb of Cicero, Illinois. To maintain plausible deniability, she claims to have amnesia about what happens next, but she came to her senses with blood on her hands—strongly implying she killed them both.
  • "Lipschitz:" The sixth and final woman, Mona Lipschitz, killed her husband Alvin after she found out he was cheating on her with several women and at least one man.

On Broadway, the song was originally performed by Chita Rivera, with Candy Brown, Cheryl Clark, Graciela Daniele, Michon Peacock and Pamela Sousa. In the 2002 film, this musical number is performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Velma Kelly), Susan Misner (as Liz), Denise Faye (as Annie), Deidre Goodwin (as June), Ekaterina Chtchelkanova (as Katalin Helinszki nicknamed the Hunyak) and Mýa (as Mona).

Covers and external usage[edit]

The song has been covered, or otherwise used, in several shows or videos:

In the Glee episode "Choke", the song was covered by main characters Santana, Brittany, Mercedes, Sugar and Tina.

Girls Generation's Hyoyeon popularized the song in South Korea after performing in the dance reality show "Hit the stage".

Child actors in the Broadway production of The Secret Garden performed the number as part of a 1992 AIDS benefit in New York City.[5]

Todrick Hall has parodied the song to make "Spell Block Tango" using Disney villains Captain Hook (as the master of ceremonies), Cruella De Vil, The Evil Queen, Ursula, Queen of Hearts, Scar (which he portrayed), and Maleficent. Hall also parodied the song as "Cell Black Django" using celebrities NeNe Leakes (as the master of ceremonies), Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Solange Knowles, Beyoncé, internet meme "Sharkeisha" (which he portrayed), and Mariah Carey.

In the Gotham episode "Let Them Eat Pie," Professor Pyg does his rendition of the song called the "Meat Pie Tango" at Sofia Falcone's charity event at the Falcone Home and School for Orphans.

In the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode "I Want to be Here," Rebecca Bunch attempts to lead a homage to the song in prison, but is unnerved by how depressing her fellow inmates stories are.


  1. ^ Christopher Evans. "Shift from hedonism easily seen" (series on cultural changes in the post-AIDS era), Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 16, 1983, page 1C.
  2. ^ Diane Werts. "Splashy! Flashy! Kicky! 'Chicago' proves a treat" (review of the Theatre Three production), The Dallas Morning News, October 18, 1979, page 14C.
  3. ^ Todd Webb. "'Chicago' a farce, a jewel" (review of a Jewel Box production), The Oklahoman, September 1, 1985, Entertainment and Arts section.
  4. ^ Thomas O'Connor. "Bebe Neuwirth brings cheer to `Chicago' " (review of 1992 production by Long Beach Civic Light Opera), The Orange County Register May 10, 1992, page H18.
  5. ^ Bill Morrison. "Secret Gardener: Fridays' child helps nurture Victorian musical on Broadway," The News & Observer, February 2, 1992, page H1.