Chicago (10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


 Hollywood has a mixed record in translating great Broadway musicals to the screen.  On the one hand there are Oklahoma with Shirley Jones and the incredible Gordon McRae and The Sound of Music.  At the other extreme are the way Fox ruined South Pacific by casting Rozzano Brazzi in Ezio Pinza’s role, one of the great singing roles of the 20th Century Broadway and allowing Josh Logan to fool around with directing, and the execrable Camelot with Vanessa Redgrave, another non-singer, in Julie Andrews’ role.  I saw a virtually unknown Redgrave as Rosalind in As You Like It in Stratford (opposite Christopher Plummer) and she was incomparable.  Shakespeare couldn’t have wanted more.  But as a singing Guinevere?  Forget it.  Hollywood moguls seem to think that if anybody can act they can dub in Marni Nixon’s voice and nobody’ll know the difference.  Wrong!

 Although the 1975 Kander-Ebb musical, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, ran for two years, it wasn’t a huge hit.  Resurrected in 1996 by Director Walter Robbie and Choreographer Ann Reinking, it was so popular it’s still running on Broadway, after more than six years.  I saw it and loved it, mainly because of the music and dancing.  But when I went to this film version, it was starting with two strikes against it.

 They cast Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, not known for their singing and dancing.  Strike one.

 They threw out Bob Fosse’s choreography!  Strike two.

  After seeing the film, Gere and Zeta-Jones still won’t be known for their singing and dancing.  But  Renée Zellweger is magnificent.  Nothing wrong with Gere and Zeta-Jones, who are merely spectacular.  Zellweger is in a class by herself.  If she doesn’t get the Oscar for best actress, something’s wrong.

 And Fosse’s choreography?  Well, it’s not missed because the dancing appears as mostly illusion.  The opening number, All That Jazz, by Zeta-Jones is a showstopper, the best number in the film.  But the choreography exists in the way the film is shot and edited.  There are lots of quick cuts as short as three seconds, which keep you from seeing that neither Gere nor Zeta-Jones can dance like Astaire and Rogers. The camera angles and cuts are coordinated with the music in such a way that you forget about Fosse’s missing choreography and marvel at the editing and cinematography that make this such a delight.

 The story, although based on an actual event, is fluff.  Roxie Hart (Zellweger) shoots her paramour and goes to jail where she meets Valma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) and Matron Mamma Morton (Queen Latifah).  Morton introduces her to Flynn and he’s hired to get her off.  There’s upbeat music throughout.

 Chicago is a masterful piece of movie making magic by Director/Choreographer Rob Marshall.  It took chutzpah to dump Fosse and cast actors in singing and dancing roles, but it was the right thing to do.  Gere is marvelous as flamboyant attorney Billy Flynn, and Zeta-Jones (boy, is she gorgeous!) and Queen Latifah ably support Zellweger.  As good as Gere, Zeta-Jones, and Latifah are, make no mistake about it.  No matter what the credits say, this is Zellweger’s movie.

 This is a funny, entertaining, scintillating 113 minutes that everyone should enjoy.

 January 3, 2003

 The End