Razzle-dazzle Chicago

Feb. 1, 2003, midnight | By Annie Peirce | 17 years, 11 months ago

I admit it: I'm biased. I love musicals of all shapes, kinds, tastes, and eras, so when Chicago came to theatres, I was set to love it. I was not disappointed. Awarded Best Picture by the Golden Globe awards, Chicago is a flashy, over-the-top, "razzle-dazzle" movie where sex, seduction, ambition, and murder are set gloriously to song and dance.

Based in 1920s Chicago, all of the movie's singing and dancing numbers occur within the head of heroine Roxie Hart (Golden-Globe winner for best actress, Renee Zellweger). This framework, deviating from the original Broadway production where the characters would spontaneously burst into song and dance, allows for even those usually dubious about musicals to have a satisfying movie experience. Under the excuse of Roxie's eccentric imagination, the flamboyant choreography and spectacle of each number is extreme. Each song is a different visual wonderment of Roxie's fantasy.

As is the case with most musicals, the plot is simple: Roxie Hart is a pretty country girl bored with her husband and her marriage. She wants to become a vaudeville star. When she discovers that her lover lied about being able to find her an audition, she kills him and is packed off to jail among the flashing bulbs of the sensationalist press. In jail on "Murderess Row," she meets Velma Kelley (charismatic Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's wearing as few clothes as possible), who killed Kelley's husband and sister after discovering the two together in a questionable position.

Enter Billy Flynn (Golden-Globe winner for best actor, Richard Gere), a mercenary, smooth talking, and public-relations genius known as the most successful lawyer in the state of Illinois. Hart and Kelley then compete for the attentions of Flynn and the fickle adoration of the Chicago public as both attempt to build up enough publicity that they will be found innocent of their crimes, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The largest challenge for director and choreographer, Rob Marshall, was not trying to recreate Broadway onto the big screen, but instead trying to wring musical talent out of his traditionally dramatic stars. Zellweger is adorable when both singing and acting, and she has the sense to know her limitations: she doesn't dance. Although she dances beside Zeta-Jones in their spectacular climactic number, her dances only really amount to a sassy walk and swaying back and forth.

Zeta-Jones, however, is fantastic. Already having proved herself a talented dancer in The Mask of Zorro when she tangoed with Antonio Banderas, Zeta-Jones is a dominant force in Chicago. She easily holds her own, even among the extraordinary dancers and singers that make up the chorus and secondary characters, notably Queen Latifah as the matriarchal jail warden, Matron Mama Morton.

Gere may act the slick manipulative lawyer well enough for a Golden Globe, but the man cannot sing. For those interested in buying the soundtrack to the movie, I would advise buying the original Broadway version just to avoid listening to Gere butcher the otherwise excellent songs. There is a very practical reason for why Gere's songs always involve more sequins and half-dressed show girls than any other numbers, and his final song sums it up: "If you keep them [the audience] way off balance, they'll never spot …you got no talents. Razzle-dazzle ‘em and they'll make you a star."

Although not sporting as big a name as his co-stars, John C. Reilly, as Roxie's long-suffering husband Amos Hart, is notable in his insignificance. Everything from his mundane looks, brown clothes, coarse make-up, and slightly confused expression make him the epitome of the ordinary, and yet my eyes were drawn to him in every scene. His simple soliloquy, "Mr. Cellophane," where he sings his sadness of being so often passed over and forgotten by those around him, is heartwarming without being sentimental. He is the only character in the film who could be deemed "good," despite, or perhaps causing, Roxie's constant dismissal and manipulation of him.

Those familiar with the original Broadway choreography by Bob Fosse may be disappointed with the more flashy movie version of Chicago, but the entertainment value of the latter can not be denied. The witty, energetic, and sexy songs of Chicago based on the tunes and beats of Harlem jazz will keep you humming for hours after.

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Annie Peirce. Annie Peirce is a senior in the Communications Arts Program and the public relations manager for Silver Chips. She is also an opinions editor for Silver Chips Online. She was born on October 25, 1984, in a hospital somewhere in Prince George's County; but doesn't … More »

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