PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 21-27: All That Press

News   PBOL'S THEATER WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 21-27: All That Press The eagerly awaited film of Kander and Ebb's Chicago made its U.S. debut on Dec. 27 in the top 20 markets.
Ren
Ren (Photo by David James)

The movie took nearly 30 years to make. Bob Fosse originally wanted to shoot it himself but died trying. New life was breathed into the project when a hit revival of the musical reached Broadway (where it is still running) in 1996. Still, for the scribes who had to cover the forever-stalling progress of the property—the many screenwriters hired and fired, the myriad of actors rumored for the lead roles (Goldie Hawn, John Travolta, Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna, Charlize Theron—you name it), the departure of director Nicholas Hytner, the coming of Rob Marshall—one thing seemed certain: the film would never be made.

But earlier this year, two remarkable things became clear: 1) the film had actually been completed; 2) the film was actually pretty good.

Chicago—which stars Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski and Queen Latifah—has been bringing in more good notices than bad and has already appeared on a few year-end, "best of" list. Most people consider it a likely contender at Oscar time. Even that hardest-to-please group of all—the theatre diehards—have given the movie high marks.

Chicago's emergence as a critical and, possibly, commercial hit comes one year after the release of Baz Luhrmann's hyper hybrid of a film, Moulin Rouge. The trendmongers of our nation—the ones who spot two of anything and proclaim a movement afoot—will no doubt point to these two flicks and hail the return of the movie musical. It's far too early to say that. But two significant additions to the genre in as many years is indeed worthy of note. And if Chicago is successful, at least a couple more are sure to follow. One, the cinematic version of Contact, begins filming in June. It should be entertaining to watch the same sweet, simple souls who argued over whether that show, with its prerecorded score, was truly a musical or not, now argue whether it is truly a movie musical.

The first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods—which came a scant 14 years after the original debuted—closes on Dec. 29. The show won over skeptics with some good reviews in a Los Angeles tryout and some slightly less welcoming reviews in Gotham. It even bested Oklahoma! for the Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award in the middle of Richard Rodgers' centennial. But the show never really caught fire with the public and chose to end its run the same year it came to life. Finally, for what most people agree was a trying year for Broadway, the year-end number came out surprisingly well. Box-office gross receipts reached a record high for 2002—a projected $705.2 million, surpassing the 2001 total — $664 million — by 9.5% The previous year, 2002, brought in $663.5 million. Much of this bounty can be attributed to the opening of the big shows Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hairspray, Movin' Out and La Boheme. Thirteen musicals opened on Broadway in 2002, the most to open in a 12-month period in the past ten years.

Kerry O'Malley, Stephen DeRosa, Gregg Edelman and Christopher Sieber in <i>Into the Woods</i>.
Kerry O'Malley, Stephen DeRosa, Gregg Edelman and Christopher Sieber in Into the Woods. (Photo by Joan Marcus)