The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 25, 2003

Hollywood Hues

Chicago gives a fresh thrust to the musical
Ervell E. Menezes

Much like Moulin Rouge, Chicago has all the razzle-dazzle of a technolgy-powered musical
Much like Moulin Rouge, Chicago has all the razzle-dazzle of a technology- powered musical

AFTER about a decade of near-hibernation (last year's Moulin Rouge must have been the precursor), the Hollywood musical is back with a bang. Yes, Chicago is a zesty, zany, rambunctious winner of the Best Picture Oscar set in America's city of crime and peddling showbiz in the best traditions of Cabaret (1972) and All that Jazz (1979). Life is indeed a cabaret and you'll love it.

It is basically a woman's film with the spotlight on two women, with one thing in common. Both are in prison for murder. Roxie (Rene Zellweger) is the proverbial peroxide blonde, simple, almost stupid, but she dreams of making it big on the stage but is taken advantage of by her agent, whom she ends up murdering. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is already a big star and Roxie's role model but lands in jail for killing her adulterous husband.

The two women vie for the attention of their fearsome jail warden Morton (Queen Latifah), for this buxom, Eartha Kitt-like female will show them a way out of their troubles via the services of suave greenback-loving lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who makes his entry half an hour into the film. The last key character in this stage-courtroom drama is Roxie's husband Amos (John C. Reilly), who is even more stupid than her.


If Moulin Rouge last year was a splash of razzle-dazzle backed by technical wizardry, Chicago is even more so and gets off to a sparkling start with the All That Jazz number, which sets the tempo for this delightful entertainer. For debutante director Rob Marshall it is a great achievement. Marshall is able to hold his own right through the film with an amazing variety of props like the cute lyrics which are distinctly "nowish," the performances that are quite brilliant and the casting that could hardly have been bettered.

"Truth, that is a ticket to death house," goes a line in the impressive screenplay by Bill Condon reflecting the Al Capone era in Chicago. But there are many more lines from where these came from and they are put across with elan by the artistes, the most gregarious of them the Queen Latifah as the jailer.

The choreography is exquisite and the sets outstanding and Marshall's handling of the chorus impeccable. The scene in which Gere "rolls along" a bevy of chorus girls is just excellent. Dion Beebe's camerawork is astounding with the reflection shot of Zellweger on the stage easily the climax. But it is the involvement of the artistes that rounds off this not-to-be-forgotten musical.

Rene Zellweger does a fine job as the dumb blonde who learns things the hard way but is easily outclassed by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who virtually steals the show with her exuberant performance which won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She even cut her hair short (against the director's wishes ) so that the audience wouldn't think that they had a double to do dancing. Richard Gere is expectedly suave with his trademark impish smile-sneer. Cameos by Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly round off this delightful musical, which, thankfully, does not drag its feet like most of the recent Hollywood blockbusters.

It's all you wanted to know about the Hollywood musical and didn't know where to look for because it had almost gone underground. Chicago will surely do Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse proud. Don't miss it.

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