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‘Chicago’ smoothed B’way transition

Oscar winner helps brings tuners back to bigscreen

In 2002, “Chicago” producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and director Rob Marshall brought audiences the first Oscar-winning movie musical in 34 years. The film delivered not only more dollars to Miramax than any other title in the mini-major’s history to date, but also a new audience to the genre.

The project had languished on Harvey Weinstein’s desk for 10 years without moving forward.

“By the time it actually did get made, everybody already had the feeling that movie musicals were not going to do business,” recalls Zadan.

The key to success, says Meron, was in first-time feature director Marshall’s reconceiving of the stage show.

“It required interpreting it. Stage language and film language are not the same, so you need interpreters. You have to find an equivalent cinematic language. On a stage, you’re confined by a proscenium arch, but when you have the depth of a movie screen, you have to fill it.”

Some scenes required complete retooling, such as the film’s ending trial sequence.

“We discovered there were gigantic holes in the show,” Zadan explains. “In the stage show, there is very little to the trial. They go to court, they sing a song, and everybody gets off. In a movie, you can’t do that because film is more literal and you have to connect the dots and tell the story.”

Marshall, who had only previously directed Zadan and Meron’s TV musical “Annie,” gave the show a cinematic experience unavailable on a stage.

“Rob was able to take what he knew from his career in theater and translate it into a new career as a filmmaker,” says Zadan. “One of the great pieces of craftsmanship is the film’s opening number, ‘All That Jazz.’ By the time that song begins and ends, you have set up the characters and the plot and everything else to follow.”

Marshall gave the film a sexy, edgy look, filled with popular actors not known to most audiences as musical stars (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger), facets Meron credits for bringing in a new audience.

“People have this perception that musicals are all fluffy, with Julie Andrews spinning around on a mountain. ‘Chicago’ proved it differently, that it was dark and edgy. It was the antithesis of what people think about musicals.”

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