“A five, six, seven, eight,” and with the classic count-in we’re off to Chicago where the dancin’s hot, the music’s grand and integrity is a definite “no show.”
From the opening sequence of Lady-Macbeth-hits-the-boards, director Rob Marshall has fashioned a Musicale vérité that morphs Bob Fosse’s original stage production into a visual tour de force of the seedier side of human nature. It lives for its song cues and production numbers as they intercut (with Academy Award® level editing by Martin Walsh) with parallel reality shots, adding compelling detail to the lyrics and movements of the entire cast.
Taye Diggs, as our affable host, gives just the right touch to his banters, introductions and asides even as he leads his remarkable musicians from an upright that sounds distinctly grand—ain’t we got fun!
Despite Richard Gere’s (sleazy, but connected lawyer, Billy Flynn whose good looks and silver tongue win more cases than his briefs ever would) surprisingly fine singing voice and steady if unspectacular tap (but seriously, folks, I just saw some Fred Astaire highlights—cross-reference below) and D.A.-du-jour Colm Feore’s near-menacing delivery, it’s the women who make the show.
Queen Latifah, as Matron Mama Morton (with a first-act torch song that seared and shimmered to her considerable weight and savvy looks) provided the story’s glue as the two murdering show girls dodge hanging through shameless defence-by-publicity-stunt techniques.
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelley—the surviving half of the sister act doomed by family ties which required a crowbar to break then bullets to end—gave a performance that came out like gangbusters but seemed to lose fire even as she slipped off the front page. Whereas Renée Zwellweger (Roxie Hart whose long-suffering husband—Chicago-native John C. Reilly—brought new meaning to the term naïveté) went from strength to strength as she reached celebrity status without a review in her pocket and a truly immaculate conception in a womb that would never betray her condition. “Baby, baby, how I love ya!”
But it was the production numbers that consistently held my attention as the dancers filled the screen with poise, verve and bang-on attitude. Their physical beauty and exceptional prowess supported (literally in one unforgettable moment where Gere is rolled over their bodies like a log in a boom) the principals so well, that it allowed their contributions to lift this spectacle over the top.
Surprisingly, the weak link was John Kander’s score (based on Danny Elfman’s original). Apart from the saucy and theatrical “All That Jazz,” the charts, although rhythmically vibrant, were melodically light. The near-constant use of “variety by chromatic modulation” only added to the overall sameness. All the more reason to praise Dion Beebe’s knowing camera that kept our eyes awash with extraordinary visual delights.
Chicago’s fun, pizzazz, and tightly cut structure combine to make this film a remarkable example of what Hollywood does best. JWR