When I spoke to Rob Marshall on January 25, 2003, he was still basking in the afterglow of CHICAGO’s big night at the Golden Globes. Off mic, I asked the obvious question about what it was like for him to adapt a show so identified with Broadway legend Bob Fosse (daunting), and then started the official interview with a question about how he went about opening up a stage play for the big screen. From there the conversation ranged from the intricacies of putting on a musical, to the serious fun of creating one, to the dangers of rhinestone-studded costumes.
Just when you thought we’d lost the knack for producing a live-action musical film here in the States, along comes CHICAGO. Set in 1920s in that toddling town, this hard-as-nails tale of sex, politics, fame, and most of all jazz, is a big, splashy, brassy confection wrapped up in a bow with enough bugle beads and sequins to circle the globe twice and finish with a flourish.
Our heroines, as such, are Velma Kelly, who killed her husband and her sister when she caught them doing unorthodox acrobatics, and Roxie Hart, who killed her lover when she found out he couldn’t help her get her show biz career going so that she could leave her dull as dust husband. They’re murderers, sure, but the sordid heat-of-passion type of killer rather than the cold, calculating kind. The calculation comes after they’re in the slammer awaiting trial. That’s when their silk-shirted sleaze lawyer, Billy Flynn, in the person of Richard Gere, who’s never lost a case, tries theirs in the media before a trial date is even set. Velma, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in a sleek bob and vamp eye makeup, and Roxie in the person of kewpie doll Renee Zellweger, trade insults, give press conferences, and jockey to stay in the public eye all while never leaving prison. Not that that stops the eye-popping production numbers, each one topping the last, though none captures the ladies gestalt like a chorus line of murderesses done up as bondage babes and doing a little number entitled He Had It Coming.
If you’re a fan of CHICAGO on stage, you wont be disappointed by its apotheosis to the silver screen. You’ll also enjoy the cameo by the original Velma, Chita Rivera. If you’ve never seen it before, so much the better to be dazzled by the twists and turns the story takes as it sings and dances its way into your heart. In short, it’s a win-win situation and I don’t get to say that often enough about a movie.
NB: The perils of on-location interviews are apparent in the sound quality of the first few minutes of our chat.