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Last Updated:  Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 18:20 GMT
Chicago helps musicals' credibility
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

A scene from Chicago
Gere and Zellweger impressed in the film
It would seem that Chicago is reaping the rewards of Baz Luhrmann's pioneering film, Moulin Rouge.

After Moulin Rouge made musicals fashionable again, Chicago's awards success has helped raise the credibility of the genre.

Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger took the acting prizes, with third and British co-star Catherine Zeta Jones nominated as well.

Of course, the film and the actors are helped by the fact the Globes specifically recognises musicals as a genre, putting it with comedy films.

But its recognition marks a remarkable journey for the story which began life in a Chicago court house, before becoming a stage play, a film, a hit musical and now a blockbuster film.

Catherine Zeta Jones stars in Chicago
Catherine Zeta Jones started life as a dancer
The tale of Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly began life as two real court proeedings, which took America by storm in the 1920s.

They were reported by Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Watkins.

Two trails

Two women Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, were both on trial for the separate murders of their lovers.

The pair turned their two trials, held just a month apart, into farce, playing up to the all-male juries, wearing make-up and costumes.

Watkins turned the tale into a stage play, which toured America for many years, and later released the rights for a 1928 film version, starring Phyllis Haver.

Ginger Rogers also starred in a 1942 film called Roxie Hart, based on the play.

Director Bob Fosse approached Watkins to buy the rights to the play in the 1940s but she turned him down.

Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge broke the mould
Watkins had become a born-again Christian and felt her play had glamourised sordid behaviour and moral degeneracy.

Fosse wanted to turn the play into musical vaudeville but it was not until after Watkins died in 1969 that he bought the rights to the show.

The show was reasonably successful but suffered because it opened against A Chorus Line.

But it was a 1996 revival on Broadway which captured the public's imagination and turned it into a global phenomenon.

And now it seems that Hollywood is also prepared to take musicals seriously again.





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