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Toon Talk: Chicago
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
So Fosse, So Good
1975 was a big year for Broadway, but it wasnt because of a musical take on the roaring twenties from director/choreographer Bob Fosse and songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb: a little show called A Chorus Line premiered that same year and, along its way to becoming one of the longest-running shows in the history of the Great White Way, stole most of the thunder, press and Tony Awards from their Chicago.
So it wasnt until over 20 years later, with its hugely successful (and still running on Broadway and on tour) revival raking in the kudos and the awards, that Chicago finally got the accolades and the attention it deserved. But aside from the kick-lining competition, it is more likely that Chicago was simply ahead of its time in 1975.
A vaudevillian-type stage farce about a dueling duo of deadly divas, clamoring for front page fame and fortune from behind the bars of a womens prison, its no surprise that Chicago found its greatest success in this, the new age of the so-called Trials of the Century in other words, all the media saturation of such infamous criminal cases as Amy Fisher, the Menendez Brothers and even O.J. Simpson that we have endured over the years has at least prepared us, the audience, for a great night of musical theater.
Finally brought to the screen by director/choreographer Rob Marshall and producer Craig Zadan in an all-star production, this Chicago owes much to its original overseer, Bob Fosse: not Fosse the stage choreographer, but more so to Fosse the film director. (Fosse scored a Best Director Oscar for the film adaptation of another Kander and Ebb musical, the 1972 film classic Cabaret.) With its hyper-kinetic visual style and the use of musical numbers as fantasy sequences to elaborate on the characters, the film is more akin to Fosses swan song All That Jazz then anything you have seen of his on stage. (Not that this is a bad thing, for as is usual with most film adaptations of stage works, the action should be opened up to avoid the feeling of just watching a filmed version of the play.)
Through the use of well-crafted cinematography and rapid-fire editing, the film really comes to life in the musical numbers, most notably such show-stoppers as All That Jazz, Cell Block Tango and Hot Honey Rag. My only complaint here is that this is often at the expense of the performances; one wishes that the camera would just stand still long enough so we can actually see the dancing, an all too often refrain when it comes to modern movie musicals such as this film and Moulin Rouge blame MTV for this annoying practice.
But aside from theater aficionados, most people will go to see this Chicago because of the star power attached to it (for, lets face it, it never would have got made without it). First things first: yes, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones can sing and dance (and if you dont believe it, the credits specifically states this fact). And while Zellweger, her cherubic face all dolled up as the adulterous/murderous Roxie Hart, pulls off such numbers as Funny Honey and Roxie with considerably charm, she takes almost a too natural approach to her book scenes; I yearned for a little more ironic, homicidal sparkle in eyes. On the other hand, Gere as slick lawyer Billy Flynn (who bears a striking resemblance to James Naughton, the revivals Billy) throws himself into his role maybe a bit to much; let this guy sing (as in his signature song, Razzle Dazzle), and he hams up a storm. (Alas, one can only imagine what musical theater vet Hugh Jackman, an early choice for this role, could have brought to the part. Other big names mentioned as possible candidates for the main roles included Goldie Hawn, John Travolta and Madonna.)