Rob Marshall had only one rule when it came to adapting Bob Fosse ’s original “Chicago ” for Miramax — to break every rule..That meant not having any character sing a song to another one or breaking into song and dance spontaneously,à la Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
“You used to be able to accept people dancing in their living rooms,” sighed the 42–year-old di- rector-choreographer one morning at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills,after the resounding Los Angeles premiere.”People won ’t do that now.I read one script,an early version,where we open on a shot of the city,and we pan down to a man- hole cover — out pops a construction worker,,who starts singing,‘Come on,babe …’ And then it got more awful.I hate those cringey moments when you ’re thinking,‘Oh — they ’re about to sing.’ They belong on a stage — not the street..”
This story first appeared in the December 20, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Clearly,Marshall is onto something.Thursday morning,the Hollywood Foreign Press awarded “Chicago ” eight Golden Globe nominations — more nods than any other film received — includ– ing one for Marshall himself,and nominations for stars Renée Zellweger,Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere,as well as “Chicago ” costars Queen Latifah and John C.Reilly.And at each of the film ’s three premieres — Los Angeles,,New York and London — jaded movie–biz types clapped after every single number,not one of which is particu- larly derivative of the Fosse signature style.
“I ’m particularly proud that we didn ’t actually use the Fosse vocabulary,” explains Marshall,,who went from choreographing on Broadway to co-di- recting Bob Fosse ’s “Cabaret ” with Sam Mendes on– stage before directing the well-received television version of “Annie ” in 1999..”I would never do wa- tered-down Fosse.I was looking for my own way.”
Instead Marshall was inspired by the film “King of Jazz,” made in 1930;;Ken Burns ’ recent Jazz series and work by vaudeville painter Reginald Marsh.
All of the numbers composed by John Kander and Fred Ebbs,former Fosse collaborators,were in- spired by traditional vaudeville acts,and every act was performed entirely by Zellweger,Zeta-Jones and Gere,as the film ’s ending credits point out.
“I never thought people would question that anyone was doing their own singing or dancing,” Marshall says,laughing.”I would never double anyone,on a vocal or in an all-feet shot.I come from the theater.There are no pumped-up vocals. Those credits were a fun thing to do,but they are also there to inform people of the truth.I had no idea John C.Reilly could really sing,and that ’s another untraditional thing about the movie. Every time someone opens their mouth to sing, you ’re wondering,‘Can they do it?’”
They can,and the cast worked hard to perfect their Jazz Age talents.
“Richard tap danced for three months in one room and Renée practiced her singing in another rehearsal room,while Catherine worked out with the dancers,” he says..”It was put together like a Broadway show.We could take this show on the road now and it would be just as good.”
But the best thing about “Chicago ” is that it ’s not a love story.Far from it.
“It ’s more about self-love,” Marshall explains.. “Which is much more modern.It ’s about the per- versity of celebrity and whom we chose to cele- brate — which in this case,,was female murderers, which were actually rampant in Chicago in the Twenties,which was like the damn of feminism. Women were suddenly drinking and dancing — and killing their boyfriends.It empowered them. And they got famous for it.Maybe we ’re not cele- brating murderers anymore,but Tanya Harding and Monica Lewinsky aren ’t exactly wholesome. There ’s a line in the song Renée sings, ‘Nowadays ’:‘In 50 years,it ’s all gonna change.’ Well,it hasn ’t changed — and it ’s been 82 years since the Twenties.Look at reality television and celebrity boxing.It ’s really fascinating,isn ’t it?”