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Last Updated:  Friday, 31 January, 2003, 18:25 GMT
Chicago jazzes up the movie musical
by Caroline Westbrook
BBC News Online

Richard Gere
Richard Gere plays corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn
With a string of critical plaudits under its belt, the film version of this stage hit has made an impressive impact, many hailing it as the best screen musical since Cabaret.

Which undoubtedly comes as something of a relief to producers Miramax, for whom Chicago has been a long time coming to the screen.

The likes of Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Charlize Theron were all tipped to star at various different times, with National Theatre chief Nicholas Hytner originally set to direct.

However, the job of bringing the show to film fell to Broadway choreographer Rob Marshall, making his directorial debut, and he does such a good job that it is hard to believe he has never directed before.

The story, originally written in 1926 by journalist Maurine Watkins, focuses on would-be starlet Roxie Hart (Renče Zellweger), who is hauled into prison after killing her lover.

The future looks pretty bleak for her, until she employs the services of charismatic, corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), whose reputation for winning cases for his female clients is infamous.

Within days he has turned Roxie into a media sensation, with her photo on the cover of every newspaper and a defence case almost certain to win her her freedom.

Catherine Zeta Jones
Zeta Jones shows off her singing talent
But fellow murderess Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones), who is also a client of Flynn's and has been elevated to similar stardom, is none too pleased when Roxie begins stealing headlines from her.

Soon her own case is barely attracting any attention - and she will go to any lengths to grab the limelight once again.

Rather than fold the musical numbers into the action, Marshall's chief conceit is to feature the songs as figments of Roxie's imagination, allowing them to be shown as they might look in the stage production.

It is a gamble that pays off - each song is so expertly choreographed and constructed that even the less memorable numbers are brought to vivid life.

The entire cast is terrific, from Gere enjoying himself immensely as Flynn through to an understated turn from John C Reilly as Roxie's husband.

Ultimately though, the film belongs to the female leads, with Zeta Jones turning in a showstopping performance and Zellweger more than matching her in the song and dance department.

Rapper Queen Latifah is also hugely impressive as prison warder Mama Morton, demonstrating a powerful set of vocal cords in her own big production number.

Renče Zellweger
Zellweger gives Zeta Jones a run for her money
But there is more to this than mere glitz and glamour. The central theme of the film - that anybody can become a celebrity with the right publicity seems, in these days of reality TV shows and endless media hype, even more relevant now than when it was first written 76 years ago.

The result is a film which makes you question the whole notion of stardom, even as it exhilarates you with its boundless energy and brilliant acting.

On the strength of this, and last year's Moulin Rouge, the movie musical could finally be set for a comeback.

Chicago opens at the Warner West End, Leicester Square, London on Boxing Day. It is released across the UK on 17 January. x



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