Story by: Jack Foley
"ITS fun and its a great ride, but what it
says is rather dark
Its about the perversity of celebrity,
and who we choose to celebrate," comments director, Rob
Marshall, when speaking of the enduring phenomenon that is Chicago.
Inspired by the highly sensationalised trials of Cook County,
Chicago Tribune court reporter, Maurine Watkins, was the first
person to pen Chicago.
The play, originally titled The Brave Little Woman,
opened to rave reviews when it was produced in 1926.
Two film adaptations followed - Chicago, a silent film
released in 1927, and Roxie Hart, starring Ginger Rogers,
which was released in 1942 by Twentieth Century Fox.
Though the satire was specific to a certain time and place, Watkins
tale of murder and media manipulation would prove both prophetic
The play resurfaced in 1975, when Broadway veterans, John Kander,
Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, adapted Chicago as an acclaimed Broadway
musical, with stage legends Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in the
roles of Roxie and Velma, respectively. The production proved
to be a great success.
Yet its not only the themes of the story that executive
producer, Neil Meron, attributes to the success of the production.
The lyrics and melodies provided by Kander and Ebb enhanced the
universality of Watkins clever play, while the choreography
by Fosse added a trademark sensuality.
"John Kander and Fred Ebb are American heroes when it
comes to the theatre," explains Meron. "A good song,
a good lyric, a good melody withstands the test of time. I think
thats really true of the words and music of Chicago.
"Theyre fun, theyre sharp, theyre sarcastic,
theyre sexy, theyre biting. They hold up now, theyll
hold up in the future, theyll hold up when were long
gone, and theyll hold up in interplanetary video distribution."
Miramax films optioned the rights to the Kander, Ebb and Fosse
musical in 1994 from producer, Marty Richards, and began the arduous
process of transforming the stage production into film.
The most difficult aspect of doing this, however, came in breaking
down the so-called fourth wall, as Marshall explains.
"In most musicals, you see people sing songs to each other.
They dont sing to an audience. There is no audience. Theres
the fourth wall," he said.
Marshalls solution involved transforming the musical numbers
into imaginary projections of the protagonist, Roxie Hart. The
film therefore exists on two planes: the reality of Prohibition-era
Chicago and what Marshall calls the surreality of
Roxie Harts interpretation of that world.
"We had to figure out a way to involve the audience in
a similar way without breaking the fourth wall, the way one can
on stage," continues Marshall. "Roxie is the dreamer
in the movie. Shes the wannabe.
"She desperately wants to be on stage. She sees her life
in these musical sequences. It becomes one linear story that jumps
back and forth between these two realities. It embraces the fact
that all these numbers take place on stage instead of trying to
Having been given the green-light, the process of casting began
and first to sign on the dotted line was Catherine Zeta-Jones.
For the former Darling Buds of May actress, the chance to appear
in the film was the realisation of a childhood dream.
She explains: "When I was a little girl, I always wanted
to be on stage, singing and dancing. I was obsessed with musicals
from the golden years of Hollywood. I would have just loved that
world of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers."
Her devotion to musical theatre, coupled with years of formal
training, led her to Londons West End, where she had a role
in 42nd Street at a young age.
Another stage veteran, Richard Gere, was attracted to Chicago
because of the smart script, the great
music and the interesting juxtaposition of Roxies fantasy
set against the heard reality of a murder case in 20s Chicago.
Gere starred as Danny Zuko in a West End production of Grease
as a young actor and quickly impressed Marshall with his enthusiasm
and natural ability for musical.
"I lucked out," he confesses. "He was unbelievable.
He loved it, too. He loved the joy and camaraderie of it. Its
such a unique role for Richard, and yet its such a perfect
Once casting was complete, however, it was back to school for
all involved, even those who had experience in theatre. Two months
of exhaustive rehearsals took place, with the performers moving
between dance instructors, voice rehearsals and acting rehearsals
for hours on end.
The result, however, is a movie that has been critically well-received
(it has won Golden Globes
and Oscars), while helping
to ensure that the legacy of Watkins story remains intact,
on-screen, for another generation.