Chicago movie poster

For the first time in almost 40 years, a musical wins both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award as the best film of the year. The previous winner: The Sound of Music. Rob Marshall’s first effort as a film director was groundbreaking, but unbelievably he won only one award that year and that was from the Directors Guild, who obviously knew better.

Critics had complained that he didn’t use the film frame to encompass the dancers’ full body, as was done in Astaire-Rogers classics. But audiences knew better. The film is a miraculous musical, alive and vibrant, that told its story through song and dance. In short, it is a classic. The history of the stage original bears repeating: it started out as a 1926 stage play which was actually filmed in 1940, but was retitled Roxie Hart and starred Ginger Rogers. Bob Fosse, coming off his Oscar-winning Cabaretwas the one who conceived it as a musical for his then estranged wife, Gwen Verdon. It ran for years but had the misfortune of opening the same year as Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line, which won all the Tony Awards that year, not to mention the Pulitzer prize.

20 years later, long after Fosse had died, his muse and principal dancer Anne Reinking initiated a revival with Gwen collaborating, and the rest is history.  The show became the longest running American musical of all time and is still running today. The movie rights were picked up by Harvey Weinstein but it took over ten years for Rob Marshall to figure out how to translate Fosse’s minimalist concept to the screen. As much as Marshall deserves most of the credit for its success, it was the serendipitous casting that made it a classic. Nobody but Renée Zellweger could have combined the naiveté and guile of Roxie as she did. And the other bonus was Catherine Zeta-Jones, who had done musical theater before but never on screen. To no one’s surprise she won the Academy Award for her Velma.

Richard Gere played the shady lawyer, a role originally offered to John Travolta who foolishly turned it down, as he later told the HFPA. The rest of the cast were equally divine. Queen Latifah played the prison matron, John C. Reilly, Roxie’s hapless husband, Christine Baranski, the reporter, Dominic West, Roxie’s victim, and Taye Diggs, the bandleader. The film grossed over $300 million having cost only $45 million. Of course, without John Kander and Fred Ebb, there would be no Chicago. Their score, lilting melodies, and brilliant lyrics. is among the greatest of all time. They were nominated for Globes a number of times but never won; not even for their immortal “New York, New York”. Kander died in 2004. May he rest in peace.