Sunday, August 8, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #22

22. Chicago (2002)

The Broadway songwriting team of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb had achieved legendary status in 1966 with the massive hit musical Cabaret. The film version, released in 1972, was also a success thanks in large part to the director-choreographer Bob Fosse. While Fosse was working with the team on the film version of Cabaret, he had expressed the interest to create a Broadway musical with them. They found the 1928 Maurine Dallas Watkins play Chicago, a comedy about the murders committed by women in Chicago in the mid-1920's, and Fosse felt it would be a great musical vehicle for his wife (Tony Award-winning performer Gwen Verdon).

The team, with the help of producer Robert Fryer, began work on the new project but hit a snag in late 1974. Bob Fosse suffered a severe heart attack but survived. The opening of the show had to be pushed back a couple months. This incident was dramatized in the Fosse directed 1979 semi-biopic, All That Jazz (the title of which was taken from Chicago's opening song). The musical finally opened in June of 1975 starring Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera as jazz killers Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly (respectively) along with Jerry Orbach as their slick lawyer, Billy Flynn. The show, with its vaudevillian style and jazzy songs, was a modest hit running for a little over 2 years. The musical was overshadowed by the enormous hit of 1975 that was A Chorus Line (which dominated Broadway for the next 15 years). The show was revived in 1996 (thanks to a successful concert version done by New York's City Center) and was a runaway hit (the revival is still running on Broadway today). The musical had finally gotten its due winning several Tony Awards and Hollywood was definitely interested.

Produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein for Miramax Films, the film version had taken its time to get to the screen. After months and months of casting meetings and director negotiations, the Weinsteins settled on Broadway choreographer Rob Marshall to make his feature film directorial debut. Marshall, with the help of screenwriter Bill Condon, knew that to make this stage musical palatable on film, they needed a good concept. In a genius move, Marshall decided that almost all of the musical numbers (save the opening number "All That Jazz" and the Finale) would exist inside the mind of the main character Roxie Hart (played by the cute Renee Zellweger). The story focuses on Roxie as she has murdered her lover and is sent to the Cook County Jail for her crime. After meeting the other inmates, including the infamous Velma Kelly (the phenomenal Catherine Zeta-Jones in an Oscar-winning performance), Roxie retains the services of attorney Billy Flynn (charmingly played by Richard Gere). Billy begins his showmanship and manipulations to get Roxie acquitted. It is a fantastic musical with fabulous musical numbers (especially the opening number, "The Cell Block Tango" and "Razzle Dazzle") and they all feature Marshall's Fosse-style choreography. The supporting cast includes Queen Latifah as the prison matron, John C. Reilly as Roxie's husband and Christine Baranski as a sympathetic reporter, each of whom are superb in their roles. The look of the film is very reminiscent of Fosse's stylized film version of Cabaret but is very much its own movie (and, in many ways, superior to the 1972 hit). This brilliant musical was a big hit with audiences and critics winning several Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Next Post: #21

No comments:

Post a Comment