Musicals used to be the cornerstone of Hollywood. I say “used to be” because after the dramatic loss a couple Sundays ago for “La La Land,” we still have yet see another musical take the night’s biggest prize like “Chicago” did over 15 years ago. And I do mean dramatic considering the producers for “La La Land” were in the middle of accepting their award when the drama began to unfold. But, as ridiculous of a scene that was, I do think Jordon Horowitz handled it with class and dignity as he was waving the group from “Moonlight” up to rightfully accept their award. What a debacle though and one that the Academy quickly would like to forget about. That said, “La La Land’s” rise and fall got me thinking about musicals and “Chicago” specifically. And this is coming from someone who isn’t a big fan of musicals in general. To this day, I have only seen a few including a couple in New York City. So as a mere novice to this genre, I never know what to expect or even what to look for when of these musicals happen to hit the big screen. That was no different back in 2002 when this film came out and took Hollywood by storm, one that can now be found streaming on Netflix.
Set in the 1920’s, “Chicago” follows two women on completely separate tracks in the world of showbiz, but tracks that we quickly find out lead to the same place after a couple unfortunate events. On one side of death row you had Velma Kelley (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a highly famed nightclub singer and dancer, who came home to her husband cheating on her with her sister. Well, I’m sure you can imagine what happened next. That brings me to the other side of death row where you had Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), the perfect name to be put in lights, only Roxie (Zellweger) didn’t have it as easy as Velma (Zeta-Jones). Her husband didn’t cheat on her; she cheated on him with a lover she had hoped would help her get into showbiz. Because unlike Velma, Roxie wasn’t a natural, but along the way something goes wrong and the next thing you know Roxie has her husband Amos (John C. Reilly) defending her plea that the man lying dead in front of her was a burglar, not her lover. Hmmm, the deception begins and so does the rest of the story as both Roxie and Velma start their journey of lies and scandals form the oddest of places, jail. So, enter in Chicago’s best lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a guy who had never lost a case. Well, these two needed more than Flynn’s help, so they began to battle and fight for publicity. But, as it typically goes, when two women want the same thing only one will survive which here meant the one who lies and cheats the most.
The casting of this film was brilliant and somewhat surprising even looking back at it now. I think when it comes to musicals, it’s so easy to get caught up with how it all looks and was put together. But, the cast does matter and with “Chicago,” it made all the difference starting with Richard Gere. That’s right, the guy people forget about until he pops up in some random drama was solid in this film as Billy Flynn, a role that he probably should have been nominated for. He was that good and sort of helped anchor what Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones were doing. Zellweger was amazing, cute and really the right fit as Roxie. She carried this film and should have won more than just the SAG and Golden Globe. Usually behind one great actress though is another and here, there were actually two. Catherine Zeta-Jones was great as Velma showing the elegance and fierceness that only she can do. But, then you also had Queen Latifah playing Mama and stealing virtually every scene she was in. That combination was tough to beat and why this film made the noise that it did. Then again, with the careful direction of one Rob Marshall, it was probably easier than it looked. And what’s crazy about “Chicago” is how it was his first feature film. What an eye and feel for the dramatic, finding an ideal balance between the singing, dancing and Oscar-nominated screenplay written by Bill Condon. At no point were you lost or upset with what was going on. It all just felt right and moved seamlessly between scenes as if you were watching it on Broadway in NYC. The backdrops were great and music was even better. Marshall told two stories, one with singing and dancing, and one with drama. The result was an instant classic that you quickly queue up the next time you happen to log into Netflix.