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Broadway musical becomes rewatchable remake on big screen

I have noticed a pattern when people are asked “What’s your favorite movie?” They respond with feel-good movies that don’t take themselves too seriously, thrillers with intricate characters, or nostalgic movies that people don’t watch often.

It’s difficult to choose what movie is considered “peak cinema.” What I believe makes a movie worthy is rewatchility, where watching doesn’t feel like a chore to watch it again.

I discovered my favorite movie in 2018 after a theater frenzy of musicals and their respective adaptations hit the big screen. I decided to watch a poor bootleg version of Chicago, a Broadway show of the sensationalized case of two women on trial for murdering their romantic partners.

Watching Chicago proved to be a different experience than most one-and-done movies. It became a daily routine to listen to the Broadway recording, and learning about the existence of a movie adaption of my beloved on-stage production made me realize there was a life outside of the theatre.

I became fascinated with the ensemble and their portrayal of these unlikeable characters, who they somehow make likable.

At the movie’s start, Roxie Hart, the protagonist, watches Velma Kelly, a vaudevillian notorious for her double-act with her sister, perform at a Chicago nightclub.
Roxie, who dreams of fame, has an affair with Fred Casely, a furniture salesman who claims he knows the nightclub owner and can make her a star.

At the end of Velma’s show, she is arrested for the murders of her sister and husband after catching two together. When watching the adaption for the first time, I found that I appreciated the way the movie expressed the storylines between the two female leads, especially when their lives felt so different.

The movie shifts to a month later, after continuously seeing Fred when Roxie’s husband is at work, she discovers that Fred has been lying about his connections and was only using her. She then ends up killing him in a rage. The deaths create a tone for the rest of the movie and leave the viewer thinking about the permanence of their deaths.

An aspect of this movie I enjoy is how appropriately the songs blend into the story.

The first song of the movie is “All that Jazz,” in which Velma hastily performs while knowing that she will be arrested soon, so the energy is palpable as she sings.

The second song, “Funny Honey,” is a piano ballad between Roxie and her husband, Amos, in which he slowly stops believing his wife, whom he promised he would protect no matter what. It’s an amazing transformation that Roxie goes from desperate to manipulative.

As the setting shifts to the jail where Roxie is being held, at  ‘Murderess Row,’ where the murderers of Cook County Jail are held, these become the topics of the songs “When You’re Good to Mama” and “Cell Block Tango.”

In the former, Roxie is under the supervision of Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, who can only be satisfied by corrupt means. In the latter, my favorite scene is where the stories of the women in Murderess Row are told, and there’s a pattern where a majority of them have intent with their actions and lack remorse. When watching movies with the main characters lacking sympathy, it can feel overdone, but Chicago can progress the story even further. When Roxie has a meeting with Billy Flynn, a lawyer who manipulates the media and portrays his clients as corrupted by the city’s nightlife, it becomes clear that Flynn is the star of the movie as he radiates charisma and confidence.

In a polished performance, Flynn argues that he isn’t materialistic, but instead cares for his clients in “All I Care About.” An aspect that makes the movie a concise adaptation is the status of the choreography throughout its entirety.

In the dream sequence, Roxie’s prime performance is told in “Roxie” as she sings of making a career out of tragedy, and loving it, where the glamor feels endless in a star-studded movie. As the movie progresses, the female leads, Velma and Roxie, have an extended scene together. Velma tries to convince Roxie to join forces with her in “I Can’t Do It Alone,” but she doesn’t succeed. In a movie that relies on eccentric characters to push the narrative forward, Velma and Roxie can share a bond like no other.

The characterization of Roxie from being an impulsive party girl to a woman terrified of being attention-deprived is evident when she lies about her pregnancy. This moment in the movie is one of the few side plots that I found unexpected. I find this portion of the film to be solemn because of the excitement of Roxie’s husband, which is supported by his absence throughout the movie. I enjoyed how this is corrected when Amos sings a solo in “Mister Cellophane,” about being a neglected husband.

During Roxie’s peak of her career, there’s a distinct shift in the movie when a Hungarian woman featured in “Cell Block Tango” is executed, despite sincerely claiming her innocence throughout the movie. The image that the movie chooses is the exciting glamour of Chicago nightlife; however, her execution signals that it isn’t an actual reality anymore and that death is a possibility. A positive that comes from the situation is that it allows Roxie to stop being pretentious and reminds us that infamously shouldn’t be confused with notoriety.

During Roxie’s trial, Flynn manages to make it into a media spectacle where it’s colorfully told in “Razzle Dazzle,” which I find to be the most unserious, but I thoroughly enjoy it because it’s a Billy Flynn solo. I find his theatrical presence to be refreshing, especially when he’s discrediting the prosecutor’s argument and coordinating the reunion of Amos and Roxie. With little suspense, Roxie is acquitted, but only seconds later, a woman shoots her lawyer outside the courtroom moments after the verdict.

I feel compelled to say that it’s my favorite scene of the entire movie because immediately after her trial ends, her relevancy goes with it too. In a satisfying end, Roxie and Velma, free and down on their luck, end with one last performance as they’re declared accurately, “Chicago’s own killer dillers, Those scintillating sinners.”

Ever since watching it for the first time in 2018, I have watched it every single year enjoying its timeless quality with an ensemble of Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, and Richard Gere; I believe this movie was meant to be a hit. Being the adaptation of a long-running Broadway musical didn’t ensure success, but it was only able to achieve it with its gritty comedic performances that embraced its musicality.

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Christian Alvarado, Staff Writer
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