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'Chicago' a musical home run

Film adaptation of classic musical puts genre back on the silver screen, better than ever with all-star cast, including Zeta-Jones, Zellweger

Velma Kelley nails it when she breathlessly says, "OK fellas, keep your socks up, 'cause you ain't seen nothin' yet," because the musical has returned to the big screen with all that jazz and then some.

Not since "Grease" has a musical created such a buzz, but the new film version of "Chicago" has wowed Hollywood, the Oscars and American audiences. Baz Lurhmann's "Moulin Rouge" may have thrown movie musicals back on the map, but the folks at Miramax one-upped Lurhmann's vision with a fallback to an old classic and the success has been stunning.

Starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as the voluptuous Kelley, Renee Zellweger as starlet-wannabe Roxie Hart and Richard Gere as the smooth-talking big-shot lawyer Billy Flynn, "Chicago" lights up the screen, turning it silver once again.

Suspension of disbelief isn't required for this remake of Bob Fosse's 1975 musical, which has a different spin on musicals. Most musicals have the characters spontaneously burst into song, but "Chicago" rarely does this. In fact, it's rather obvious that 90 percent of the singing is either in a show or something happening in the character's imagination. The movie is the perfect transition musical for younger audiences.

The story centers around two murderesses, specifically on Zellweger's character, Hart. Hart shoots and kills her lover after he lies to her about having connections in Vaudeville and then spurns her.

Zeta-Jones' Kelley was part of a sister act, but kills her sister and husband after finding them in bed together. The story focuses on the dark, fascinating competition for each murderess to get the most publicity with the help of the silver-tongued Flynn, Gere's character. The two women fight each other for the top spot in an all-out raucous, jazzy and sensual battle.

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The music is superb. The actors, especially Queen Latifah as Mama Morton and Zeta-Jones, turn their musical numbers into stunners, as in Latifah's "When You're Good To Mama" and Zeta-Jones' feature in "Cell Block Tango." Zellweger and Gere also make surprisingly good singers in their numbers, especially for two actors who weren't trained to either sing or dance classically.

The movie is a visual masterpiece, with the costumes and dance numbers jumping off the screen and into the audiences' laps. Zellweger and Zeta-Jones are scintillatingly sexy, having that perfect combination of jazz and bad-girl vibes.

A refreshingly real musical, the characters of "Chicago" cuss and drink The women on "Murderess Row" have little-to-no remorse about their crimes, as the "Cell Block Tango" number recounts, "He had it coming/He only had himself to blame/If you'd have been there, if you'd had seen it/I betcha you would have done the same."

The soundtrack by itself is wonderful and a recommended buy. Hollywood couldn't have picked a better cast to bring back the musical genre.

Miramax's "Chicago" will join the annals of movie fame alongside musicals such as "West Side Story," "My Fair Lady" and "Gypsy."

"Chicago" has proved that American audiences are ready to be "razzle dazzled" once again.

It's about time.

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