Chicago

Chicago (  )

From its opening number, as murderess Velma Kelly blasts out All that Jazz, to the closing show-stopper of a sequence, Chicago shouts its Broadway credentials from the rooftops and proves that straight transfers from stage to screen are still possible.

Broadway hits turned movie successes have been rare, but Chicago arrives on the back of an audience turnaround for stage musicals mainly delivered by the success of Moulin Rouge – a musical of a very different type.

Set during the Roaring Twenties, the story tells of two pushy, ambitious jazz singers, Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart (Catherine Zeta Jones and Renee Zelwegger) who, between them, shoot three people and end up in the clink on separate murder raps.

But with the aid of corrupt warden Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) and glory-seeking attorney Billy Flynn (a revelatory Richard Gere), both women achieve their dreams while, en-route, blasting out some energetic song and dance numbers.

Fans of Bob Fosse’s original stage production will love director Rob Marshall’s cinematic treatment. In truth this is pretty much a straight crossover from one to the other. Throw in some perfect casting (even down to the supporting actors) and Chicago proves to be a hit from the very opening credits.

Velma, a bitchy vamp with an eye on the big time, is the role Catherine Zeta Jones was made to play. All her previous musical and dance training rapidly becomes evident in the gutsy way she throws herself into the various numbers, either solo or ensemble.

She plays cold-hearted ambition better than any actress of her generation, and one has to wonder exactly how autobiographical some of her playing is. Zelwegger, a huge draw since the success of Bridget Jones’ Diary, doesn’t have Jones’ history in dance to carry her through but you’d never know. She’s never less than comfortable in the role of the wannabe singer and dancer whose big chance comes when her murder trial puts her in the public eye for her 15 minutes of fame.

Then there’s Gere. Years ago he played Danny Zucco in Grease but that was in a different life. You’d never know. Like the girls he flings himself into a series of numbers and proves that, not only can he sing, he could also rival Travolta in the dance routines.

Throw in equally excellent performances from John C. Reilly as Roxie’s dumb schmuck of a husband, Queen Latifah as the matron on the take, Taye Diggs as the house announcer and Lucy Liu in a cameo as a triple killer and Chicago positively streams with A-grade talent.

While it is neither as engaging as Moulin Rouge, nor as fun, it nevertheless buzzes and fizzes with the electricity of live theatre and the sheer energy of three stars who each give 110 per cent.

Two dance numbers stand out for their sheer exuberance: the Cell Block Tango, with Velma and her cellmates detailing with glee how they bumped off their various spouses, and the final double-hander between Velma and Roxie where they wow the crowd and find the stardom their yearn for.

Chicago is a sensational slice of nostalgia and a prime example of how music, song and dance can triumph when done right. I predict a tidal wave of people booking for the stage show on the back of this movie.

Star rating: ****

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