Rob Marshall almost directed Rent instead of Chicago

Marshall also shared that he sang “Mister Cellophane” during a meeting while introducing the film.

December 27th marked the 20th anniversary of “Chicago”, one of the highest-grossing musical adaptations of all time. The film – director Rob Marshall’s film debut – won Best Picture at the Oscars, becoming the first musical since 1968’s Oliver to gross over $306 million at the global box office. But the film almost didn’t materialize because distributor Miramax Films wanted Marshall to direct the “Rent” adaptation instead.

Marshall revealed the origins of the project in a 20th anniversary interview with The Hollywood Reporter, explaining that Miramax and Harvey Weinstein (years before his sexual abuse was publicly exposed) scouted him to direct an adaptation of “Rent” after he worked on the ’90s revival of Cabaret and the 1999 TV adaptation of Annie. However, Marshall wanted to direct “Chicago” and called it his favorite musical of all time. Eventually directed by Chris Columbus and released in 2005, the film “Rent” received mixed reviews and underperformed at the box office.

“They invited me to a meeting to talk about ‘Rent,’ but I knew the ‘Chicago’ property was out there and they were really having trouble figuring out how to get it on film,” Marshall said . “‘Chicago’ was my favorite musical – I had directed it in Los Angeles, but I also just loved it growing up. I sat down to say to Meryl Poster, Harvey Weinstein’s right-hand man, ‘Before we start talking about rent, can I tell you how I think Chicago might be approached? Because it hasn’t happened yet.’ I started explaining my conceptual thoughts about the film and how I saw it.”

Marshall went on to explain that in introducing the film to Weinstein, he had to explain the film’s vaudeville conceit by comparing it to MTV music videos and singing “Mister Cellophane” at the meeting.

“It was this idea that there would be two different worlds: the world of the vaudeville stage, where the musical numbers took place, and then the realistic world of 1920’s Chicago. At that point, it was rare to mix two different worlds in one film at the same time,” said Marshall. “But I pointed out on MTV videos at the time that many different levels could be happening at the same time. I actually performed “Mister Cellophane” for Harvey in his office and explained that the character of Amos would be in Billy Flynn’s office, in a real scene with him, picking up his hat, and when he put his hat on, he would be on stage.”

Marshall’s next directorial effort, the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey, is slated to premiere May 26. Understand the importance of honoring source material.

“It’s really important for me to understand why the source material works, why it’s loved, why people embrace it — and make sure you respect that,” Marshall said. “At the same time, you have to reinvent it for a live-action film. You have to hold on to those special things, but at the same time know that it’s a different form. You’re in live-action form now, so you have to do things differently than you would in an animated film. Animated film will always live there, but that was in 1989. This has to be seen through the lens of 2023. It’s a real balancing act, but respecting the original material is very important to me.”

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Lindsay Lowe

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