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“Welcome. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery — all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts. Thank you.”

No words sum up Chicago better than those opening lines from the original show written by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb. That show has moved from the Great White Way to the silver screen and now to DVD with most of its devilishly devious and fun-loving soul still intact.

All That Jazz

 Entertaining from the Great White Way to the silver screen to this little black box
Entertaining from the Great White Way to the silver screen to this little black box
 
Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary) is a sweet, innocent little woman with big-time ambitions. Her dream is to be on the stage, in the limelight, entertaining the crowds with her vaudevillian talents.

Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, High Fidelity) is a not-so-sweet woman who’s already a star of sorts, co-starring on stage with her sister, Veronica.

Both Roxie and Velma take a wrong turn after they are each found to be at the safe end of guns that kill their two-timing partners. And with that, the two jazz slayers wind up in prison together, under the auspice of “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah, Bringing Down the House).

Turning to the media and Billy Flynn (Richard Gere, Unfaithful), a shifty but incredibly successful lawyer, the ladies manage to find notoriety and freedom in 1920s Chicago.

Nowadays

The conceit of Chicago’s latest film adaptation (Roxie Hart starred Ginger Rogers in 1942, and it was previously filmed in 1927) is that all the musical numbers are vaudeville acts running through Roxie’s fertile imagination. It’s a nifty, well-conceived way to smoothly integrate the musical numbers into the story’s cinematic narrative. Roxie’s fantasy world reaches its zenith in Zellweger’s Marilyn Monroe-esque rendition of Roxie, one of the numbers that takes on a whole new life in this film version.

But, in keeping with the concept, there’s some snappy dialogue and a few musical numbers that couldn’t be successfully integrated. Among the songs missing from the movie are A Little Bit of Good, My Own Best Friend, Me and My Baby, and Class. The standout of the bunch is the very witty Class, which was filmed and is included as a supplement on the DVD.

The cast is uniformly excellent and Zellweger and Zeta-Jones gamely fill the stockings previously worn by the likes of Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth.

What makes Chicago such a treasure is its timelessness. It takes place in the 1920s, was written in the 1970s, and its bark still has bite in the new millennium. No matter if it’s one of the real-life jazz slayers, Richard Nixon, O.J. Simpson, Bill Clinton, or Kobe Bryant, the mainstream’s hunger for dirt on those of celebrity status has been around a long time. It’s that appetite for the distasteful and unsavory that Chicago so satisfyingly skewers.

DVD Extras

For a fairly historic movie (Chicago won six Oscars and was the first musical to win the award for Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968), the DVD’s supplemental materials are skimpy. No doubt this edition will be made obsolete down the road. After all, Miramax has already released its other major 2002 Oscar contenders, Gangs of New York and Frida, as double-disc sets.

Nonetheless, what’s here is a good start. The running commentary by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon provides a definitive analysis of the thought process in transferring the musical from stage to screen.

Another highlight is the inclusion of the previously mentioned song Class, with Ebb’s original lyrics, the ones deemed too risqué back in the 1970s.

Also included is a 30-minute documentary that spends too much time on the starry-eyed wonder the cast and crew has for each other. As genuine as those sentiments may be, more worthwhile are the bits on the history of Chicago, which is enough material to work as a complete documentary in-and-of itself (the movie is based on the stage musical, but the story has gone through other incarnations and is itself loosely based on actual events).

The documentary ends with the film’s music video of All That Jazz, but for convenience that should have been made a separate feature and menu item.

Picture and Sound

Presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 screens, the disc’s picture has been fine-tuned and color-corrected by Marshall to take advantage of the medium and emphasize some of the nuances that might have been missed in the theater.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround sound tracks allow the musical numbers to shine with Kander and Ebb’s brilliance coming through loud and clear. Even so, there’s nothing like seeing the original show live, on stage.

The film is also supported by a French language track, Spanish Subtitles and English closed-captioning.