I remember watching the film version of Chicago when I was in college after seeing it. It served as one of those rude awakenings that I encountered regarding musicals because of how I viewed them in the past.
What am I referring to here? When a story included song-and-dance numbers, it often leaned towards the positive kind of emotions like falling in love. I enjoyed musicals. I enjoyed song-and-dance numbers in Disney movies but everything changed the moment I saw Chicago. It tackled adultery and murder to the tune of jazz music. I enjoyed the music but it took awhile for my to be accustomed with how the story went through.
Viewing it again years later, I already have a different outlook on musicals. It must have been my exposure to the bloodiest operas that affected my view on theatrical music, not that it negated my feelings towards theater. Not one bit. Tackling dark themes but keeping the music lively, the story was interesting enough to keep my glued to my seat the day I decided to watch it again.
A Bloody Plot
Ambitious blonde gets to pressure her doormat husband to get the undefeated lawyer for her murder case in her dream of becoming a vaudeville star herself just like her idol. Set that plot to music and we have a musical going on. I like it that they don’t just put up a musical just for the sake of shocking the audience but for presenting a culture of guns and gold (the goons are not needed, just some lawye maneuvering). This is entitled “Chicago” after all, a musical that intended to balance the glamorous and the dangerous in this city.
It will not be a bloody plot if there are no loose firearms. Roxie Hart (played by Renee Zellwegger) ended up with that little pistol because it’s normal to turn around (at least as presented in this film) and find a gun wherever you look. Sometimes it can be viewed as a commentary against gun control in the United States. Did she think she can ever get away with it? Well, no. Apart from the fact that she’s constantly daydreaming throughout the movie, she’d dumb. But obviously her husband, Amos (played by John C. Reilly), is dumber because he put up with her crap for so long.
The Race to Fame
What initially thought of as just a way to get out of a bad situation eventually evolved into a battle for the meatier press exposure. Around the same time as Roxie’s incarceration, her idol, Velma Kelly (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) got jail time as well for murdering her husband and her sister after finding them in Act 69. This is where she learned of Velma’s undefeated lawyer, Billy Flynn (played by Richard Gere).
The irony of that race to fame is that sometimes it feels shorter than 15 minutes. All that needed to happen is for another murder to occur granted that the person accused of committing it is more interesting to put on the papers – the kind that would sell more copies. And either Roxie or Velma would be concocting plans to put themselves back on the front pages.
Oh celebrities! Such a vain audience catering to just as vain of a market. And it makes you think eventually what really are they gunning for (pun intended), the freedom, the fame or the attention? Why not all three if it can be done? At least compared to the other murderesses that were in the same cell, they’re exposed well in media just the same. The girls who performed with Velma the “Cell Block Tango” could only dream of fame and fortune if only they can afford the services of Billy Flynn.
Manipulating Media, Shaping Public Opinion
Which one comes first? Public opinion or the decisions handed down by juries? Characters like Billy Flynn are still so relatable today because lawyers like him still exist. Some lawyers are not known for the brilliance of their defense strategies but by the brilliance of their press release skills that it makes you think what are they really in business for.
Also, it somewhat implied that most defendants that get accused of murder get away with it after manipulating public opinion. Most decisions are rendered by juries and they belong to the same audience that media keeps on influencing. With Flynn being one of the major influencers in Chicago media, they eventually get to shift the tides. They make the public go sympathetic and soft on folks like Roxie Hart. Even media practitioners expressed sympathy in the line “Understandable! Understandable!” when they are NOT supposed to take sides. So whoever must have been constantly bewailing the lost of “the good old days” may have been living elsewhere.
Life as a Musical on Daydream Mode
Regardless of the situation, there will be song-and-dance numbers. Then you realize that the District Attorney is the only person without a musical number. This is a little loophole that director Rob Marshall noticed hence presenting the song numbers as daydreams that Roxie had. It made sense since much of the story is presented in her point of view so might as well incorporate her obsession with a vaudeville career by presenting everything in her point of view as if it’s a series of vaudeville performances.
Roxie imagines herself pouring her heart out to her audience when in reality, it’s just the warden, Matron “Mama” Morton (played by Queen Latifah) that listens to her. She sees Flynn performing a swear-inducing tap dance when in reality he’s trying to wriggle his way out of a compromising interrogation after Roxie’s diary got leaked out. Even the husband she barely care for gets his own number via “Mr. Cellophane” in her daydreams, acknowledging the fact that he’s an ignored spouse. It’s a subliminal admission on her part that she’s deliberately ignoring him.
Her head is that messed up that she can’t tell the difference sometimes between right and wrong, real and reel. But she’s the willing player like that scene where she faced the media. Flynn realized that Roxie is too dumb to be left to talk on her own so he feeds her with what she should say – a scenario that played in her head as becoming the ventriloquist’s puppet.
Performances That Mattered
I will be honest to you – I did not like Richard Gere’s voice. It’s like ringing in my ears in a bad way. It felt like picking up 2 pieces of aluminum tin and rubbing the edges to produce a sound (nakakangilo). The only time I cared for his voice was during the ventriloquist scene. I believe that his singing voice fitted that scene better.
Queen Latifah is amazing. For an artist that I initially saw on TV as a rapper, she is the pleasant surprise that I discovered here. She can sing too. No wonder musical-based projects followed for her, at least in Hollywood. (I need to research then if she had Broadway projects too) She deserved that nomination from the Academy too if not for a better nominee that ended up winning the Oscar later.
And you already know that by know as Catherine Zeta-Jones. The hair, the performance, the voice and that overall-impact. I am so enamored with it. It’s a performance that would be very difficult to top off. Even she herself might not be able to top it off. (Sorry, ma’am, but your performance at “Rock of Ages” was over-the-top. I’d end up remembering you in that film for the wrong reasons. I will review that film version later)
Of course, the main fallen heroine of the film, Renee Zellwegger. It’s a performance that makes me forget how does she look now. Her voice is thin but fitting enough for the character that she played here. In the film, she’s a vaudeville wannabe. She’s not expected to sound that great but she doesn’t have to sound that bad either. As an actress disappearing into her character, her voice contributed a lot to the life she poured into the character of Roxie Hart.
The alchemy between Zeta-Jones and Zellwegger turned out to be just right and memorable enough to crave a second viewing. Add the rest of the cast into the mix and you end up with a great ensemble here at Chicago.
Certainly, most fans that saw “Chicago” at Solaire Resort and Casino would base their expectations from this film. I must say don’t since Broadway had always been different from theater. Also most expectations fail if you view musicals that way. It’s not fair to the production that you are about to witness here so please take liberty.
For musical enthusiasts that are about to see Chicago though for the first time but still be interested to know what lies ahead of them, I hope I have given enough information here. My apologies if some spoilers got shared here. I hope my insights were of help though.
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