Taking his cue from such profusely talented dancer/choreographer-turned-directors as Bob Fosse, former Broadway hoofer Rob Marshall made a scintillating leap into film with his directorial debut Chicago (2002).
Born in Wisconsin and raised in Pittsburgh, Marshall began his professional career at age 12 when he joined a local musical theater company. Though he took time off from college to join a touring company of the 1970s Broadway smash A Chorus Line, Marshall returned to school and earned a degree from Carnegie Mellon University's musical theater program. Leaving Pittsburgh after school, he moved to New York City in the early '80s to join the ranks of Broadway "gypsies" vying for a place in the chorus. Marshall sang and danced in several Broadway shows, and worked his way up behind the scenes from dance captain to assistant choreographer. Marshall, however, suffered an injury while dancing in Cats; he subsequently decided to quit performing to concentrate on choreography. He earned his first credit as a Broadway choreographer with the musical version of Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993. Working steadily in the theater throughout the 1990s, Marshall subsequently choreographed the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees, and took on double duties as choreographer and director of Little Me, Company, Victor/Victoria, and the Los Angeles stage revival of Fosse's 1975 musical Chicago before it moved to New York in 1996. Marshall learned to choreograph for motion pictures when executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron hired him to create the dances for the TV musical version of Cinderella (1997). Impressed with his work, Zadan and Meron hired him to direct and choreograph the TV adaptation of Annie (1999), which went on to become the most popular TV movie of 1999.
Marshall topped off his Broadway career when he choreographed and co-directed with Sam Mendes the wildly successful 1998 revival of Cabaret. With his sterling Broadway pedigree as well as his TV experience, Marshall was called by Miramax in 2000 to discuss a film version of Rent. Knowing that Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein had long desired to make a movie of Chicago, and that such big names as Madonna, Goldie Hawn, and Nicholas Hytner had already come and gone from the project, Marshall instead pitched Weinstein his idea for how to make Chicago's vaudeville stage structure work for film. With Weinstein's blessing, Marshall tapped screenwriter Bill Condon to transform John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Fosse's saucy musical numbers into stylized, stage-bound figments of murderess and wannabe starlet Roxie Hart's imagination. Over a rigorous rehearsal period, Marshall and his team made sure that the cast, including neophyte chorine Renee Zellweger and musical theater veterans Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, could do all of their own singing and dancing onscreen. As his Cabaret predecessor, Fosse, had when adapting that show into an Oscar-winning film, Marshall re-choreographed Chicago for the screen as well, creating dances that evoked the sinuous spirit of Fosse's sexy 1975 choreography without slavishly copying it. After two decades in development, Chicago finally opened to rave reviews for its electrifying performances, witty script, and Marshall's giddy, sharp direction. A prize winner as well as crowd pleaser, Chicago garnered Golden Globes for Gere, Zellweger, and Best Picture (musical or comedy), while Marshall earned a Director's Guild nomination for his first feature.
In the years to come, Marshall would continue to direct major features, with variable success. In addition to movies like Nine and Memoirs of a Geisha, Marshall directed hits like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.