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Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C Reilly
Director: Rob Marshall

Musicals. You either love them or loathe them. If it hadn’t been for MOULIN ROUGE they would have remained consigned to the stage in the 21 st century, the Busby Berkeley style films having out-played themselves years ago.

So here’s CHICAGO. But dismiss any comparison to MOULIN ROUGE for this is something quite different. It’s been adapted from the Broadway/West End hit and its songs are not only projected from a stage, but are integral to the action. You know the story – forlorn, plain woman but soon-to-be heroine bemoans the lack of requited love from her man interest as she meanders melancholic down a New York avenue. But it’s the way it has been adapted that makes this work and work it does. Director Rob Marshall and writer Bill Condon mused over eliminating the “fourth wall” – the fact that on stage you project to an audience – and came up with an ingenious plot device: the musical numbers are transformed into the imagination of Broadway wannabe Roxie (Zellweger) as her story unfolds. The result is that we inter-cut between the characters playing out the real life dialogue/song mime and their equivalent as musical numbers in her dreams. It’s a masterwork of seamless direction and editing with some wonderfully clever devices. Look out for lawyer Billy (Gere) prompting Roxie on what to say to the hungry press in the story, transposed in the musical number to her being his ventriloquist’s dummy and even includes him controlling the marionette reporters.

Speaking of the story, if you didn’t already know, it takes the Broadway staple of the downbeat girl aspiring to be like the stage siren she covets – in this case the now renowned Velma (Zeta-Jones) – and eventually reaching the heady heights herself. CHICAGO: The musical worked because of the twist on the setting in that both women are up for trial for murder of their lover/husband respectively and are defended by the artful Billy Flynn giving the piece, and the numbers, a crafty, dark feel, rooted in the jazz of the era. Even if you haven’t seen the show and I haven’t, the very idea of that cast headlining a musical is enough to raise a smile. But for all you non-believers out there, all three come from musical or stage backgrounds. If you think it’s strange to see Gere break into song, bear in mind he too trained in song and dance and his early career highlights included playing Danny Zuko in a West End run of GREASE.

One hopes that the buck stops with CHICAGO. Heaven forbid it opens the floodgates to more screen adaptations of stage shows that can only muster those nauseating, overblown numbers that all seem to sound the same.

5 out of 6 stars