The International Writers Magazine:Musicals v Film
Film directed by Rob Marshall or l?
Musical directed by Walter Bobbie (2005)
true story, to play, to musical, to academy award winning film,
Chicago is a story that has been told time and time again, and
after 80 years is still a well known name! The incredible history
of the story all started in 1924 when the real life Velma Kelly
and Roxie Hart "both reached for the gun"!
March 12th 1924,
cabaret singer, Belva Gaertner, (Kelly) was arrested after Walter Law
was found dead in her car. Then on April 3rd 1924 Beulah Annan, the
real life Roxie, phoned her husband claiming she killed a man who "tried
to make love to her" (Harry Kalstedt). Apparently due to the help
of a slick lawyer and vast media attention both were released later
that year. Journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins took an interest in the
story and created a comedy play called Chicago which hit the
Broadway stage in 1926 (August 2005, Chicago: Show Brochure).
These true life events influence the plot for Chicago, the musical,
about two young ladies imprisoned after committing crimes they didnt
believe to be wrong. The two find their only hope is for the master
of media manipulation, Mr. Billy Flinn, to turn them into celebrities
and gain the sympathy of the masses. But is Rob Marshalls academy
award winning film really successful in comparison to the stage musical,
currently directed by Walter Bobbie at the Adelphi Theatre in London?
Marshal appears to add more to the plot, for example, in the film after
Velmas cabaret act the police appear. Yet on the stage the show
opens with the famous "All That Jazz" and the audience only
know of Velmas imprisonment through the "Cell Block Tango"
where we discover the nature of her crime. The main problem, according
to executive producer Neil Meron, was how to integrate musical numbers
into the film without stopping the action, so Marshal used Roxie, to
"see life through musical sequences" (Marshal, R. 2002, Chicago:
Behind the Scenes). Marshal also added extra parts to the musicals
original storyline, by John Kander and Fred Ebb. At the end of the musical
in the Adelphi, the show closes as Roxie and Velma reunite for the grand
finale as a cabaret duet. For the film, Marshal incorporated a brand
new scene where Roxie auditions unsuccessfully then Velma appears after
being released and they become a double act. This use of added scenes
provides a detailed explanation of events, whereas in the musical this
is done through song, but some numbers were cut for the film. Instead
of using the song "When Velma Takes the Stand" Marshal
actually shows her taking the stand at Roxies trial, which gives
more action to Catherine Zeta Jones, which may please a modern audience
the men), and like with "Class", Marshal
felt it couldnt fit into the "show within Roxies mind"
(2005, IMDB: Trivia for Chicago). Cleverly Marshal incorporates the
song "My Baby and Me" through underscoring when Roxie
announces her pregnancy.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that Marshal adds extra parts
to the plot, he leaves the Hungarian prisoner Hunyaks crime to
the imagination of his audience, whereas in the musical we learn that
she is hanged for, apparently, killing her husband with an axe!
In the Adelphi production, Mary Sunshine (Alex Weatherhill) plays an
extremely important role as the target for Flinns plans of manipulation
because she always sees "The Good in Everyone", and
towards the end of the show it is revealed to the audience that she
is actually a man. Yet this idea is very pantomime and didnt fit
in with the realistic scenes in the film, so wasnt used.
Despite this Marshal uses a great deal of spectacles for the "performances
in Roxies mind" (Marshal, R. 2002, Chicago: Behind the Scenes).
Due to this idea, every number was performed "on stage" which
created the atmosphere of a theatre performance, and after watching
it at the cinema the audience even clapped, proving that Marshal created
this atmosphere successfully. One of the best visual moments on stage
is the "Cell Block Tango", the dancing is incredible and the
lighting sets the scene perfectly and fits the mood of the song as light
and shadow are used to create prison bars. It was pleasing to see that
Marshal also uses this technique in the climactic part of the song.
He also uses the idea of Roxie as a ventriloquists dummy for the
number "Both Reached for the Gun" which is a technique
used on stage and in both cases looks so effective and is extremely
Of course bigger spectacles can be used in film, such as a huge ROXIE
sign, but the simple spectacles created in the stage version were just
as effective. One of the best sequences is during "All I Care About
is Love", the dancers had huge feathers which created amazing patterns
including "long raven hair", and a rotating circle of fluff
around Billy Flynn (Terence Maynard). Despite the few changes that Marshal
incorporates he doesnt take away from the musical experience,
as Meron says "Rob comes from the theatre, those are his roots"
(Meron, N. 2002, Chicago: Behind the Scenes).
Marshal has stayed true to the original story and many of John Kander,
Fred Ebb, Walter Bobbie and Maurine Dallas Watkins ideas, but he has
had to change moments to make the story more appropriate for film and
a modern audience. This is not a hard task as Chicago is suggested to
have been so successful after its re-release to the stage in 1996, because
the themes it raises are relevant to our lives today, showing the manipulation
of the press and public (Zelweger, R. 2002, Chicago: Behind the Scenes).
The producer Marty Richards follows this idea when he says that "it
is all about murder, greed and debauchery, everything we hold near and
dear to our hearts, thats what Chicagos about, its
everything thats happening today in the paper, todays headlines,
the six oclock news!" (Richards, M. 2002, Chicago: Behind
the Scenes). So although he has put his own spin on the original musical,
Marshal has created a film based on a story from the 20s, kept
it appropriate to society today and has played a big part in keeping
the story of the real Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly alive. Chicago has
made them truly famous for their crimes.
© KM November
Anon is a creative arts major at the University of Portsmouth
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