Director Andrew Bergman interviewed Rob Marshall, director/choreographer of Chicago, at the DGA Theatre in New York on December 17. Marshall is one of Broadway's most sought-after director/choreographers, and Chicago marks his film debut.
Marshall said he originally directed a production of the musical in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s starring Juliet Prowse and Ann Reinking. "One of the problems with bringing Chicago to film over a 25-year period was that it's so specifically theatrical," Marshall said. "It's musical vaudeville. All the numbers take place on a stage in front of an audience. I looked at early drafts of it that eliminated most of the score by John Kander and Fred Ebb.
"I actually went in to meet [Miramax head] Harvey Weinstein about the movie of Rent. Before we began, I said, 'Would you mind if I tell you what I would do with a film of Chicago?' I told him that the film had to take place on stage because that's the only way the characters live. Kander and Ebb and the screenwriters based all these numbers on original vaudeville turns [by Sophie Tucker, Helen Morgan and Bert Williams]. I realized that you have to embrace that. So I came up with this idea of putting them on a stage of some kind and then at the same time have this story that runs through parallel to and intersecting it — that's a real story of Roxie's journey, and jump back and forth between the two realities."
Marshall said that the editing process was particularly time consuming because during the filming he used four cameras running almost continuously while shooting the musical numbers. The difficulty was in matching the reality to the fantasy in the film.
"I basically went for performance first," Marshall said. "[Editor] Martin Walsh and I went piece by piece. This is one of those movies where I couldn't really take advantage of any of the editor's compilations because I really had to be in the room. After we finished something like that, I rarely went back and changed things because we worked on it so specifically.
Marshall found that using a video monitor when he shot the musical numbers was extremely helpful. For instance, on the "Razzle Dazzle" number, the courtroom sequence was shot first and the musical number second. "It was the same courtroom so it was the same set. We just took the walls out and added circus sets," he explained. "I had a video monitor to remind myself of the exact angle. When Roxie and Billy walk over to meet the press at the beginning of the trial in 'Razzle Dazzle,' the photographers are flashing pictures. I wanted to get the same shot in reality [dramatic rather than musical]. It was really trial and error capturing the exact angle."