Connect with us
Image: Miramax Films


Chicago: The Stylish, Feel-Good Musical About Getting Away with Murder 

With the right song and dance, you can get away with murder.

Rob Marshall’s Chicago, 20 Years Later

Arriving at Christmastime in 2002, 20 years ago this week, Chicago brought back the sort of stylish, colorful, fun Broadway musical adaptation that had been absent for a few years by that point- and it carried that good feeling all the way to a bunch of Oscars. (Moulin Rouge, a musical without Broadway roots and also with a black-and-red color palette, was a big hit in the summer of 2001.) 

Chicago was adapted from a stage musical from 1975 with songs by Kander and Ebb, the team best known for the score of the musical and all-time great movie Cabaret. 

Ebb wrote the original musical’s book with Cabaret director Bob Fosse, but because Fosse was long dead by 2002, Bill Condon wrote the screenplay, and Rob Marshall directed. Like Cabaret, Chicago has a period-specific musical nightclub in it — even with an emcee, played by Taye Diggs — but unlike Cabaret, the one in Chicago is metaphorical, at least most of the time. 

The movie had a lot of things to say about the intersections among murder, the media, and fame, and while the Broadway version certainly predated the O.J. Simpson case, it was hard not to think about it, watching the Chicago movie in 2002. 

Image: Miramax Films

Chicago has as its anti-heroines a pair of female murderers, who see murder as their path to fame. Set in the titular city in the 1920s, the film stars Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly, two ladies who both killed men Velma shot her husband after catching him with her sister, while Roxie shot her lover, who had falsely promised her Vaudeville stardom. 

Richard Gere stars as Billy Flynn, the hotshot lawyer, while John C. Reilly played Amos, Roxy’s long-suffering husband. These performers aren’t all known for their singing, but they all did a decent-enough job. 

However, it was Catherine Zeta-Jones who stole the show, starting with her opening tune “All That Jazz.” At the height of her stardom at the time, it was probably the best turn of her career. Zeta-Jones’ Oscar was one of six the film would win, along with Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. 

For Best Picture, Chicago beat out Gangs of New York, The Hours, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist; Chicago became the third Miramax movie (out of four) to win Best Picture. It was not the strongest year in Oscars history, although Chicago has emerged two decades later with a better reputation than most of its rivals. (Though I maintain that the little-nominated Road to Perdition is the best film of 2002.) 

Image: Miramax Films

Speaking of the Oscars, it became something of a running joke that the Oscars paid tribute to Chicago on multiple occasions, including on its 10th anniversary. That may be because producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who produced the film, also produced the Oscars several times.

As for the director, Rob Marshall, he was a theater veteran making his film directorial debut. He has continued as a director of musicals, making the movie versions of Nine (2009), Into the Woods (2014), the Mary Poppins sequel (2018), and next year’s live-action version of The Little Mermaid. 

It may not be an all-time classic, but Chicago is an important film for ushering in a new era for Hollywood musicals, and for giving us Catherine Zeta-Jones at her absolute best. 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



2001: A Space Odyssey 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: Clarke and Kubrick’s Odyssey of Discovery


Deep Impact was a serious look at the end of the world Deep Impact was a serious look at the end of the world

25 Years Later: Deep Impact was a Serious Look at the End of the World 


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie review Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Caps Off the Trilogy With a Heartfelt Bang (Mostly)


The Best Movies of 1973 The Best Movies of 1973

The Golden Year of Movies: 1973


The Zone of Interest The Zone of Interest

Cannes 2023: Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is a Manicured Vision of Hell


Jeanne Du Barry review Jeanne Du Barry review

Cannes 2023: Maïwenn’s Great Hair Goes to Great Lengths in Jeanne Du Barry


Black Flies Gripping Black Flies Gripping

Cannes 2023: Black Flies— Gripping Descent into the Underbelly of New York’s Urban Misery 


Asteroid City: A Gimmicky Vanity Project Asteroid City: A Gimmicky Vanity Project

Cannes 2023: Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City is a Gimmicky Vanity Project


La Passion de Dodin Bouffant: La Passion de Dodin Bouffant:

La Passion de Dodin Bouffant: Surfeit Cooking Drama Most Inane Film at Cannes


BlackBerry movie review BlackBerry movie review

BlackBerry Is a Wonderfully Canadian Account of a Dying Tech Dream


The Mother Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez The Mother Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez

Jennifer Lopez’s The Mother is Eerily Similar to Enough, But That’s Not a Bad Thing


Godzilla 1998 Godzilla 1998

Godzilla at 25: When Hollywood Made a Manhattan Monster Movie, with Disastrous Results


The Matrix Reloaded The Matrix Reloaded

20 Years Later: The Matrix Reloaded was Underwhelming, but Still Underrated


Discovery channel Discovery channel

The Head-Scratching Moves Discovery Has Been Making


10 Best SummerSlam Matches 10 Best SummerSlam Matches

10 Best SummerSlam Matches


Sean Connery Sean Connery

60 Years Later, Dr. No Remains the Paragon of Bond