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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 13:44 GMT
Rob Marshall: From Broadway to Hollywood
Rob Marshall
Rob Marshall has made a huge splash with his feature debut
Rob Marshall, a former dancer and choreographer, has been elevated to Hollywood's top ranks with his first film - the big screen adaptation of hit musical Chicago.

Rob Marshall has had the first-time feature break most directors would kill for.

The 42-year-old directed the big screen version of the hit musical Chicago, starring Richard Gere, Renče Zellweger and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The film has gone on to be a huge hit, winning the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy film, and is being tipped as a serious contender to take away best film on Oscar night too.

Gere and Zellweger also took away awards for their part in the film.
Sam Mendes
Marshall worked with Hollywood darling Sam Mendes on Cabaret

The film tells the story of jazz club singers Roxie (Zellweger) and Velma (Zeta Jones), who both commit murder as they desperately aim for fame in turbulent, crime-ridden 1920s Chicago.

It is based on the musical choreographed by Broadway legend Bob Fosse, which opened in 1975 from a script written in 1926 based on true tales in Chicago's murky underworld.

And, along with Baz Luhrmann's spellbinding Moulin Rouge (an Oscar winner 12 months ago) it looks set to revitalise the musical in modern cinema.

Failed attempts

Chicago was anything but an easy musical to take to the screen.

The songs are sung by a chorus line and are 'presentational', without a strong connecting narrative.

Directors, writers, and even celebrities such as Goldie Hawn and Liza Minnelli had tried - and failed - to get the murderous musical onto film.

Marshall, more than most directors, understood the trials of taking a stage musical to the screen more than most.
Catherine Zeta Jones in Chicago
Zeta Jones plays the scheming Velma in the film

He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and went to New York to dance on Broadway after his college education.

His first role was in a stage version of Anthony Quinn's Zorba The Greek, and he also went on to choreograph shows such as Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

His directorial debut was co-directing a version of Cabaret with American Beauty's Sam Mendes.

He then graduated to TV, directing a television version of musical Annie that featured Misery-star Kathy Bates.

He was then invited by Miramax to pitch the musical Rent as a movie.

But Marshall had other ideas.

Instead of pitching them Rent, Marshall told them he wanted to do a version of Chicago.

Marshall had luck on his side. Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein's children were big fans of the director's version of Annie, and the deal was struck.

"They've been trying to make this film for the past 20 years. People toyed with ideas of how it could be done and there were a lot of scripts and a few directors along the way," Marshall told the BBC.

Modest budget

"One script started with a construction worker coming out of a sewer trap singing 'C'mon babe!' Wonderful, isn't it? So we shot that and said, 'That doesn't work'.

"It really was a problem: how do you get into this movie? How do people start singing? How is that natural?"

Marshall's pitch was to have the music appear on a jazz club stage in dream sequences in Roxie's head.
Renee Zellweger
Zellweger had not sung or danced on film before Chicago

He thought a link between real and surreal worlds was the best compromise.

Given a relatively modest budget of $45m (£28.1m), the film was shot in Toronto in three months, with only a few months' preparation.

Marshall said the hothouse atmosphere made the cast and crew get on much better.

While Zeta Jones, playing the arrogant Velma, had extensive musical experience, her co-star Zellweger had never sung or danced in her acting career.

But Marshall was able to make her a Golden Globe winner.

Like his onetime colleague Sam Mendes, Marshall may have got off to a flying film career.

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