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DVD review

Chicago Stands Tall
by Scott Holleran

Bringing the stage musical Chicago to the screen has been a long, difficult process, but director Rob Marshall's sassy movie has made it worth the wait. Marshall, who directed the recent hit made-for-TV musical remakes of Annie and Cinderella, has crafted an entertaining musical with several standout performances, but it's marred by one major mistake.

Telling the story of two murdering dames, Vaudeville star Velma Kelly (dazzling Catherine Zeta-Jones) and wannabe Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger in an uneven performance), Chicago satirizes the world's losers by laughing at them, not with them. Every type of cheap whore"conniving women, two-timing men, sensationalist reporters, dishonest lawyers"gets their due.

Miss Zellweger's raunchy Roxie is bad to the bone, despite misguided attempts to work victimhood into Roxie's routine. Roxie lies, cheats, pumps bullets into her lover and pins it on her innocent husband (played flawlessly by character actor John C. Reilly).

When hubby blows Roxie's cover, it's off to prison where Roxie meets Zeta-Jones's media darling murderess Velma, prison matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah and her heaving bosom) and the good-for-nothin' women of Chicago's Death Row. After hooking up with a sleazy lawyer (Richard Gere) who makes Johnnie Cochran look almost honorable, Roxie wraps the media around her slender figure and steals Velma's spotlight

Using a clever narrative style, Marshall retains the sarcasm and sex appeal of the original Broadway show"written by the late, Oscar-winning choreographer/director Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb"which itself was based on the original 1927 drama by Maurine Dallas Watkins.

Showstoppers are sprinkled throughout Chicago, such as Reilly's knockout "Mr. Cellophane" number"his voice and his movements are excellent. Making the most of a secondary role to the movie's focus on Roxie, Zeta-Jones kicks up quite a fuss as Velma, moving beautifully through several numbers including "All That Jazz." Her sexy performance makes it look like a piece of cake.

Richard Gere's tap-dancing Billy Flynn is a wickedly slick con man and Gere's is another fine performance in an underrated career (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Pretty Woman, Sommersby). Veteran actress Christine Baranski sparkles in her portrayal of Mary Sunshine, the mindless mouthpiece that symbolizes the media.

Presenting his musical bag of tricks one by one"with good timing and shrewd use of his cast"director Marshall demonstrates real skill in matching talent, story and theme. Unfortunately for him and for fans"especially Fosse fans"Marshall has misjudged his own choreography.

Chicago's dancing is good, though Zellweger's muscled movements often come off more spindly than sinewy"but there is no substitute for Bob Fosse's striking choreography. Chicago the stage musical was privately sensual, relaxed and erotic at once, and that's Fosse. The plot is inseparable from the dance. Because Marshall has replaced Fosse's uniquely charged style with his own, Chicago the movie is less erotic, less alluring and less mesmerizing than it might have been. Was actress/choreographer Ann Reinking (Annie), who danced for and studied with Fosse, unavailable?

Still, Chicago is entertaining and its story is, sadly, as relevant now as it was when the show premiered on Broadway in 1975 "- it's a steamy, sexy good show. For those who like their satire hard-boiled, and don't mind indulging in the cigarette-smoking cynicism of murdering vixens on the make, Chicago is your kind of movie.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
The double disc Razzle Dazzle DVD edition of Chicago is an excellent piece of work. The movie still stands tall, with gorgeous lighting, crisp photography and smooth transitions, and Rob Marshall makes a good case in the audio commentary (with writer Bill Condon) for substituting his own choreography for Bob Fosse's.

It's the rest of what's in this box"worth every penny at a suggested retail price of $30"that matters, including the 12-page, glossy musical-to-movie story. Bonus material plays for keeps: a solid 27-minute stage to screen documentary, extended footage of the picture's musical performances"from three cameras"and a 13-minute gem called When Liza Minnelli Became Roxie Hart that does the Cabaret star justice, with a rare performance on Dinah Shore's afternoon talk show in the 1970s that features a bona fide Broadway surprise.

There's more, including a 19-minute profile of director Rob Marshall, a deleted musical number, "Class," sung by Queen Latifah's Mama Morton and Zeta-Jones's Velma (with optional commentary by Condon and Marshall) and bits on costume and production and more. While a 35-minute cable music channel's special is a waste of time"it's mostly clips from the movie"the DVD contains enough razzle to dazzle the toughest Chicago fan.

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Chicago - The Razzle-Dazzle Edition (DVD) from Amazon.com 2003 film version starring Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Special features include: Commentary by: Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon; From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago; Deleted Musical Number "Class" performed by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah; Extended Musical Performances; Chita Rivera's Encore; An Intimate Look at Director Rob Marshall; When Liza Minnelli became Roxie Hart; and VH1 Behind the Movie

U.S. Release Date: December 27, 2002
Running Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements)

Cast Recordings

Chicago Original CastChicago - A Musical Vaudeville (1975 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Featuring Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, and Jerry Orbach. Songs include: Overture - Orchestra, All That Jazz - Chita Rivera, Funny Honey - Gwen Verdon, Cell Block Tango - Chita Rivera, When You're Good To Mama - Mary McCarty, All I Care About - Jerry Orbach, A Little Bit Of Good - M. O'Haughey, We Both Reached For The Gun - Gwen Verdon, Roxie - Gwen Verdon, I Can't Do It All Alone - Chita Rivera, My Own Best Friend - Gwen Verdon, Me And Me Baby - Gwen Verdon, Mr. Cellophane - Barney Martin, When Velma Takes The Stand - Chita Rivera, Razzle Dazzle - Jerry Orbach, Class - Chita Rivera, Nowadays - Gwen Verdon, and All That Jazz Reprise - Chita Rivera

Chicago Revival CastChicago - The Musical (1996 Broadway Revival Cast) from Amazon.com Featuring Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Joel Grey, and James Naughton. Songs include: Overture, All That Jazz, Funny Honey, Cell Block Tango, When You're Good To Mama, All I Care About, A Little Bit Of Good, We Both Reached For The Gun, Roxie, I Can't Do It Alone, I Can't Do It Alone (Reprise), My Own Best Friend, Entr' Acte, I Know A Girl, Me And My Baby, Mister Cellophane, When Velma Takes The Stand, Razzle Dazzle, Class, and Nowadays

Sheet Music

Highlights from Chicago (The Musical) from Sheetmusic.com Includes: All That Jazz, When You're Good to Mama, Razzle Dazzle, Mister Cellophane, and Nowadays. Instant digital download sheet music.

"Funny Honey" from Sheetmusic.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Cell Block Tango" from Sheetmusic.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Class" from Sheetmusic.com Instant digital download sheet music.

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