If Moulin Rouge heralded the triumphant return of the movie musical, Rob Marshall's rhapsodic rendition of Chicago takes that tendency a welcome two-step further. Using the best capabilities of both stage and screen, Marshall mounts a rousing cinematic achievement that may trump Baz Luhrmann's -- he's filmed a conventionally structured musical that needs no tricks, only its own tight mechanics, to reach across generations of moviegoers. A Broadway chestnut written in the 1970s about the 1920s may not seem ripe with 21st century relevance, but an astonishing cast of performers breathes new excitement into the lyrics and music of John Kander and Fred Ebb and the swagger of playwright/choreographer Bob Fosse. And in Chicago, "performer" is no term of backhanded praise. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere sing every impressive note and cut every impressive groove across each dance floor, their heretofore unknown talents prompting bouts of surprised applause throughout the audience. That they deliver award-worthy acting on top of it is a bonus. But Chicago is as much a triumph of editing as any other attribute. The production numbers run steadily throughout, so Marshall deftly weaves expository passages into the score's quieter moments, the lyrics and images offering a perfect symbiosis of storytelling methods. Martin Walsh's editing also gets its own chance at center stage, notably during the thrilling sequence in which Gere's climactic courtroom speech alternates with footage of the actor engaged in a rapid-fire tap dance. That Chicago also functions as a familiar but juicy indictment of the bloodthirsty media and its fickle readership...well, it leaves a reviewer about as breathless as Zeta-Jones after a spirited romp across the set.
by Derek Armstrong review