PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2003, 12:00am

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C Reilly

Director: Rob Marshall

Category: IIB

After years in the wilderness, the musical is back. First, there was Moulin Rouge and its four Oscars. Now, there is Chicago, which is expected to be nominated next week for a swag of the same.

Whether or not this news has you kicking up your heels with joy will depend greatly on your capacity to sit for two hours and watch grown men and women burst into song at the drop of a hat.

Moulin Rouge wasn't really a musical of the old-school variety - director Baz Luhrmann always being determined to push a genre's boundaries to their limits. First-time director Rob Marshall takes a few chances with Chicago, too. But for the most part this is a Broadway musical-turned-film in the most classic sense.

Marshall doesn't stray too far from the original show. He cuts a few songs, tweaks a few scenes, but makes up for it all by throwing some of the action into fantasy sequences set within the main action. It works brilliantly, thanks in no small part to some smartly savage editing.

It helps, also, to have a cast of this calibre. Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere more than hold their own in the singing and dancing stakes. And the little extras - such as Queen Latifah and John C Reilly - make all the difference.

Zellweger is Roxie Hart, the impish housewife lusting after fame. Sent to prison for killing her lover, she ends up falling for the charms of lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere). But there's more to this girl than meets the eye. Under Flynn's guidance - and after taking her lead from the voluptuous killer Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones) - she soon learns that any headline is a good headline, and sets about using the media to her own ends.

Chicago comes at you fast and furious, and it is steeped in the jazz and blues traditions of the city from which it takes its name. A great part of the audience's joy will come from seeing the film's non-musical types let rip with gay abandon. And it's almost impossible not to be swept away.

Chicago opens on February 13.


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