“Chicago: The Musical” in Development Hell for 27 Years

Mister D: No wonder Bette got frustrated with Hollyweird…:

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In this crazy stage show we call life, it’s easy to see why a film that glories in sex and violence would be considered instant box office. But the truth is that “Chicago” has been 27 years in the making. Why so long? We chronicle the musical’s painful journey to the big screen…

1975-77: Bob Fosse’s Broadway production opens to mixed reviews. The show closes after two years.

1975-87: Fosse and Broadway producer Marty Richards talk of adapting “Chicago” for the big screen. Fosse toils over a workable screenplay and finally avows, “It cannot be done!”

23rd September 1987: It’s the final curtain for Fosse. He dies of a heart attack and the script is left to gather dust.

1994: Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein options the rights to “Chicago” and approaches director Baz Luhrmann, fresh from “Strictly Ballroom”. Luhrmann rejects the overture, saying he’ll never touch anything by Fosse. Fellow directors Herbert Ross (“Footloose”) and Milos Forman (“Hair”) also turn down a trip to the Windy City. Meanwhile, writer Larry Gelbart (“Tootsie”) is hired to redraft Fosse’s script.

1996: Gelbart is stuck in development hell, but a hit revival on Broadway and a spooky real-life imitation starring OJ Simpson give “Chicago” a shot in the arm. Madonna is approached for the part of Velma Kelly. Fosse’s original choice for the role, Madge is still riding the “Evita” money train.

1997: Goldie Hawn is measured up for Roxie Hart’s sequinned basque; Rosie O’Donnell pitches for the role of Mama Morton; and John Travolta wants to razzle-dazzle ’em as Billy Flynn. Broadway luvvie Nathan Lane (“The Birdcage”) fancies a toe-tapping turn as Roxie’s downtrodden hubbie, Amos Hart. The cast is nearly assembled and attention turns to finding a jazz-handy helmsman.

Alan Parker is mentioned after directing “Evita”, but then there are eerie whisperings about the dark lord David Fincher.

1998: While the concept of “Singin’ in the Rain”-meets-“Se7en” has undeniable appeal, Miramax announces that directing duties will go to Nicholas Hytner – best-known for “The Crucible” and “The Madness of King George”.

Hytner fires Gelbart in favour of Wendy Wasserstein, the scribe of their recently wrapped “The Object of My Affection”. Rosie O’Donnell also gets the boot, to be replaced by either Bette Midleror Pam Grier, while Travolta is asked to go jiggle his love-handles for someone who cares.

Hytner even ditches 53-year-old Goldie Hawn, presumably because the wardrobe department doesn’t stock support tights. Madonna drops out due to other commitments and Nicole Kidman is offered the second-hand pantyhose. She passes in favour of new stockings in Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”, so Hytner brings in Charlize Theron.

2000-02: Choreographer Rob Marshall gets an audience with Miramax to talk about an adaptation of another hit Broadway musical, “Rent”, and cheekily asks if he could share his thoughts on “Chicago”. He envisions the musical set-pieces taking place on a vaudevillian stage inside Roxie’s head.

Harvey Weintstein chomps his cigar thoughtfully and then gives Hytner his marching orders. Marshall hires Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters” and, er, “F/X2”) to redraft the script, and finds his Roxie Hart in the shape of Renée Zellweger. “42nd Street” vet Catherine Zeta-Jones is cast as Velma Kelly, and Marshall buys some tap-dancing lessons for Richard Gere. “Chicago” finally begins shooting on 10th December 2001.

December 2002: “Chicago” gets its worldwide release, just in time for the Golden Globe nominations. It receives eight nominations, including Best Comedy/Musical, and Best Actress nods for Zellweger and Zeta-Jones.

“Chicago” is currently screening in London and opens nationwide on Friday 17th January 2003.

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