Although I am definitely a Broadway musical fan, I rarely enjoy musical movies because I just don’t think they capture the magic of live theater.
The recent hit “Chicago” is a whole different story. I haven’t enjoyed a movie that much in a long time, and it left me feeling much like I do after I watch a live theatrical performance.
Set in the late 1920s, the movie follows Velma Kelley — Catherine Zeta-Jones — a Broadway star who murders her husband and Roxie Hart — Renee Zellweger — a Broadway hopeful who shoots the man she has been having an affair with, as they find themselves in jail.
Velma and Roxie fight for the attention of Billy Flynn — Richard Gere — their smooth lawyer who has never lost a case. The tension between the two women is intense as Billy moves Roxie’s sensational case up, taking the court date that was originally Velma’s.
Velma’s jealousy heats things up as she does her best to ruin any chance Roxie has of getting off on her murder charges, and Billy is left trying to save the case, and the future of the two women.
Virtually every aspect of “Chicago” was amazing. The film was perfectly cast, from the leads to the supporting roles.
Queen Latifah did a phenomenal job playing Mama Norton, the prison guard who looks after the women in jail, and John C. Reilly perfectly portrayed the loving, devoted, unassuming husband, Amos Hart, who sticks by Roxie despite her adulterous ways.
Zellweger and Zeta-Jones had remarkable voices, which were displayed beautifully in the popular musical numbers from the original “Chicago” score.
The most surprising display of talent came from Richard Gere in his unbelievable tap number. Everyone knows he’s a talented actor, but I never expected Gere could tap dance, too.
“Cell Block Tango” was my favorite musical number, with some pretty cool dancing accompanied by great singing, of course. Considering what the song is about — how each of the women killed a husband or lover — it’s very funny and catchy.
The lighting in the film was also noteworthy. In every scene the use of light drastically added to the set, whether it was the dramatic spotlights with mysterious shadows in the songs, or special effects lighting like the red neon “Roxie” sign.
The crucial part of a musical movie is how the musical numbers are handled. I’ve always thought musical movies where the actors just burst into song in the middle of a scene appear rather silly. While this works quite well in live theater, it somehow doesn’t seem to flow in a movie.
In “Chicago” each song is a separate scene that is often introduced by an announcer.
The songs are used as a way to show emotion and individual characters’ feelings that would otherwise be impossible to portray.
With exceptional singing, acting, dancing, a classic story and the perfect cast, “Chicago” is the formula for the extraordinary film. Add to that a unique way of including the musical numbers and “Chicago” is one of the most successful films Miramax has made in a while.
Egan can be reached at email@example.com.