February 7, 2003

And All That Jazz

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An eclectic mix of college students, cultured retiree’s, and high school townies stumbled over each other to snag a seat at one of this weekend’s three nearly sold-out sneak preview showings of the highly-anticipated movie Chicago at Pyramid Mall. For those who missed it, you’ll just have to wait until the movie officially comes to theaters everywhere on February 7th.

Based on Bob Fosse’s 1975 Broadway musical, Chicago is a film-version remake complete with all the famous tunes, like “All That Jazz,” and show-stopping dance performances by a cast of some of Hollywood’s top names. This includes a very sexy opening number by Catherine Zeta-Jones, a famous ’20s nightclub dancer known as Velma Kelley who, despite all her fame has a few issues. She finds herself at the mercy of the law when she is accused of killing her husband and sister/dancing partner after catching them having an affair with each other. But in a town that thrives on shocking and depressing news, this puts Velma on even higher celebrity status. Her one hope of returning to the free world and enjoying her fame, though, is by hiring high-profile attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who holds an amazing record for never loosing a case where a woman was willing to pay a pretty penny for his notorious ability to sway a jury.

Roxie Hart (Renee Zellwager) follows a similar path to doom. In hopes of gaining the contacts she needs to get her turn in the spotlight of the Chicago nightclub scene, Roxie sleeps around with an abusive man who claims he knows all the right people to get her the high life she wants so badly. But when he doesn’t live up to his promise and tries to walk out on Roxie, she kills him in a fit of rage and tries to pin it on her dimwitted husband Amos (John C. Reilly). Plans backfire and Roxie lands herself in jail alongside her idol Velma.

In a crazy triangle of desire and deception, Roxie soon gains the attention of Attorney Flynn, who becomes busy building a high public profile for Roxie, subsequently shoving Velma out of the limelight. Roxie immediately lands at the top of Velma’s hit list, and she will do anything to make sure Roxie becomes Billy Flynn’s first female client to receive the death sentence.

The star-studded cast lineup also includes Queen Latifah as Mama, a prison matron who’s more than willing to help a convict out so long as she can provide substantial compensation. Latifah puts on a stellar performance, showing off her singing skills and proving that she has great acting talent as well.

Gere initially seems out of place singing and dancing on screen, but you’ll soon become accustomed to it. As for Zellwager, the part had the potential to fit her as poorly as some of the costumes you’ll see her wearing. Yet she too does a fabulous job with the role — a real break-through for her.

There are a lot of similarities between Chicago and the recent production of Moulin Rouge, but make no mistake — this movie has a lot of very talented actors, a captivating story, fabulous staging and lighting, and a pace that will keep you enthralled the entire time. The only negative is the occasional excess of excitement going on all at once. Too many colorful costumes, unique camera angels, and bright lights can be distracting. But the discomfort can be overlooked.

On-screen musicals are often a hit or miss venture, but Chicago is a definite success.

Archived article by Laura Borden