Posted: Monday, January 20, 2003

News Flash: Chicago, the hip new musical that is taking Hollywood by storm, is not showing on the peninsula this week. What is showing is such a pallid assortment of trash, drivel, and already-seens, that I was compelled to make the trip to Anchorage for a little culture. I had to see what all the fuss was about. I think I get it.

Chicago, the story of a couple of jazzy dames and a slick lawyer whose specialty is helping gals get away with murder, has its roots on the Broadway stage. In bringing the show to the big screen, the filmmakers achieve much more than the simple revival of a dying genre. They create as delightful a sinfully entertaining spectacle as has not been seen since last year's Moulin Rouge; and previous to that, who knows?

At the heart of this orgy of gin joints and scantily clad flappers are two of the most ambitious showgirls to ever grace the stage: Roxie Hart, the hopeful up-and-comer, and Velma Kelly, the reigning queen. The first time Roxie glimpses Velma onstage, the grande-dame has just committed a dastardly deed, and Roxie's is not far off. Soon, both women find themselves in the Big House, surrounded by a whole host of devilish divas, presided over by the magnificent matron, Mama, played beautifully by Queen Latifah. Vera and Roxie spend most of the movie battling it out for bigger headlines, knowing as they do that, in 1920's Chicago, publicity is key to success, and notoriety is one of the fastest routes to stardom. Guiding each, in turn, with their case, is razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn, a slickster who can tapdance around any jury with ease.

Chicago has it all. Great acting, super production values, and something often missing from all the pedigreed pictures surrounding the holiday season: fun. This movie is flat-out fun. Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Renee Zewelleger are all fabulous, and are joined by a supporting cast that will knock your socks off. The lights, the songs, the dances, and the glamour will carry you away whether you think you like musicals or not.

To be honest, though I generally enjoy musicals, a large portion of the moviegoing public, including my wife, does not. "Who sings?" she is fond of griping. "Why can't they just talk about their problems like normal people?" (The fact that my wife is assistant coach of the Drama program at the high school where she teaches, and frequently stage manages their theater productions, could shed some light on the constant frustration of her existence.) This lack of public support was a major hurdle for Chicago's producers to overcome. I mean, let's face it, aside from the aforementioned Moulin Rouge, can you think of any movie musicals that have really "made it" in the last twenty years or so? I can think of one: The Blues Brothers, and that's going back a ways. Madonna's Evita was well received critically, but didn't exactly pack 'em in at the box office. And let's not even mention the star-studded bomb, Everyone Says I Love You. If you say you've never heard of it, then it's producers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. A style of movie that was such a staple of the bright-eyed optimism of the Fifties has become little more than a punchline in the jaded, been-there-seen-that new millennium. To combat that, Chicago wisely moves most of the song and dance out of the realm of the real world, and onto a fantasy nightclub stage in the imagination of Roxie Hart. This way, the audience is given free license to enjoy the show, without having to wonder why the characters are suddenly singing their conversations to one another.

Chicago is a saucy, sexy good time, the likes of which is rarely seen out of the Broadway lights. Maybe, if we're lucky, one of our local theaters will vie for this gem, but if not, it would definitely be worth your time and money to make a trip to the Big City. Grade: A

Chicago is rated R for violence and sexual situations.

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