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Chicago wind in sail of big-screen musicals

New York, Dec. 24 (Reuters): Who said Hollywood musicals are dead'

Twenty-seven years after choreographer Bob Fosse’s show Chicago about murder, lust, celebrity and all that jazz had its debut on Broadway, it has finally made it to the big screen.

With stars not normally known as singers or hoofers — Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere — Chicago follows in the dance steps of last year’s Oscar-nominated Moulin Rouge. Chicago, tells the story of two 1920s chorus girls who land in jail and battle each other for fame.

The buzz is that if it is a hit — and it has just picked up eight Golden Globe nominations —then musicals could be making a big comeback in Hollywood.

After the golden age of big screen musicals like South Pacific and The Sound of Music in the ’50s and ’60s, the genre fizzled out in the last two decades, when Broadway hits like Annie or A Chorus Line flopped at the box-office.

Sure, there was the artistic triumph of Fosse’s Oscar-winning Cabaret and a host of Andrew Lloyd Webber “pop” musicals and vehicles like Grease, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Little Shop of Horrors, but the classic Broadway show, with big choreographed numbers and chorus lines, just didn’t light up the silver screen.

All that may have changed with the razzle-dazzle Chicago, as its stars have been keen to point out to reporters.

“People find it hard when the action stops and actors start bursting into song,” said Zeta-Jones. “(But) Moulin Rouge paved the way for us and I would like to see more,” said the Welsh actress, who, though best known for her dramatic roles, appeared in the musical 42nd Street in London’s West End when she was 17.

“Musicals' They did bad ones and they became a little cheesy,” was Zellweger’s verdict. “They weren’t entertaining and became formulaic; they just went away.”

“They just weren’t well done and had no connection with audiences,” agreed Gere. “Moulin Rouge created a new genre, but this (Chicago) is more like a traditional musical.”

Gere, who learned to tap dance for his role, recalled the Lerner and Loewe show “Paint Your Wagon,” which for many critics and fans represented the nadir of the screen musical.

“There was a series of (bad) movie musicals in a row at a time of realistic drama,” said Chicago first-time director Rob Marshall. “They got over bloated and it was cringe-time when they opened their mouths to sing.”

That is not the case with his movie, whose stars do all their own singing and dancing and surprise somewhat with their ability to belt out a show-stopper.

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