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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Stars breathe life into Broadway revival

By Jack Garner
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

CHICAGO (Rated PG-13)


Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere star in this movie version of the Broadway hit, directed by Rob Marshall. 108 minutes

Broadway's long-popular hit Chicago is finally on the screen, in a sassy, entertaining rendition that breathes new life into the nearly extinct movie musical.

Its surprising cast of Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere proves to be a formidable, high-stepping, robust-singing trio of stars.

They're characters caught up in the high-profile murder trials, vaudeville competition and Depression-era razzle-dazzle of 1920s Chicago.

Director-choreographer Rob Marshall steps up considerably from his made-for-TV musicals, Annie and Cinderella. Chicago is based on the Broadway show mounted by composer/lyricists John Kander and Fred Ebb and choreographer Bob Fosse in 1975 — and then revived as an even bigger hit in the 1990s.

The story survives not only because of its wit and music, but also because its cynical confluence of murder trials and show-biz fame seems increasingly relevant.

Zellweger is Roxie Hart, an ambitious singer-dancer who is charged with murder but parlays her tabloid publicity into show-biz stardom.

She's looking to unseat the popular star of the day, sexy singer-dancer Velma Kelly, who has legal problems of her own.

They share the equally ambitious, very dapper and oh-so-cynical lawyer Billy Flynn. As he tells Roxie, "It's all a circus, kid. A three-ring circus. These trials — the whole world — it's all show business."

That's also the secret of Marshall's screen adaptation. The musical has defied a movie rendition for years because of the challenges of blending the music-hall numbers with the crime scene, jail cell and courtroom realities. Marshall's solution is to blend Roxie's interior world — her dreams and ambitions — into the songs and dances at the nightclub.

To help guide viewers through the process, Marshall uses stage announcements by the club's handsome, well-dressed bandleader, played by former Rochesterian Taye Diggs.

Though we might not normally think of Zellweger or Zeta-Jones as musical talents, both are sensational. Zellweger projects just the right mix of girl-next-door charm and deadly conniving, along with a steamy stage presence that offers a faint echo of Marilyn Monroe.

Zeta-Jones offers a darker but equally steamy presence as Velma, who's determined to defend her turf as the town's resident musical star.

Gere, meanwhile, oozes the charm and confidence of the high-priced lawyer, and even sings and dances briefly.

Marshall expertly stages the show's big numbers — the opening "All That Jazz," the show-stopping "Cell Block Tango" and the wow closer, "Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag."

But equally effective are numbers by the film's two most effective supporting players, John C. Reilly as Roxie's cuckolded husband, who sings the sadly pathetic "Mr. Cellophane," and Queen Latifah, who offers the film's biggest surprise as the prison matron. Who knew the self-titled queen of hip-hop could pull off a Bessie Smith-styled blues number with the robust "When You're Good to Mama."?

Marshall, though, should be more confident of his considerable screen talent and his staging. He needs to follow the old adage of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire: Let the dancers dance and the camera watch.