Despite winning six Academy Awards including 2002's Best Picture honor, one of the greatest criticisms leveled at director Rob Marshall's Chicago was that because the musical primarily centered around “merry murderesses,” the film didn't leave us a single character for whom we could root.
Nonetheless, by relishing in the absurd nature of the situations, infusing the anti-heroines with subtle sarcasm and matching every potential sour note with an overdose of satire, Marshall's work achieved international success as a scandalously irresistible guilty pleasure.
Refreshingly resistant to taking itself too seriously yet at the same time unafraid of seasoning the overall effect with unexpected touches of humanity, Chicago additionally benefited from the decision to pull a pair of opposite divas out from the “Cell Block Tango” crowd, allowing Marshall to shine his spotlight on just two women for the course of its running time.
However, the aforementioned “Tango,” is one of the musical high-points of the entire film as we meet a diverse ensemble of alleged killers who swear they “didn't do it,” regardless of whether or not the man in question would've “had it coming.”
Luckily, those behind Chicago understood that it would've been far too emotionally exhausting and over the over-the-top to dedicate an entire movie to countless women who've done wrong and been wronged in life.
Unfortunately, and regardless of the sexy Cabaret like Bob Fosse feel of feisty women whose ambitions have led them to sinful places found in Marshall's Chicago neighborhood, it's quickly evident that R&B music star turned writer/director Nicci Gilbert has taken the opposite approach in her abysmal stage-play Soul Kittens Cabaret.
And once Gilbert abandons her lame 42nd Street opening that finds a seemingly sheltered young woman dubiously catching the eye of a cabaret club director, we realize that she has never encountered an African-American stereotype or black character cliché she didn't think should be poured into one bloated two and a half hour production.
Recently recorded and released on DVD in an unimpressive near home-movie style presentation as though someone just steadied a camera in the audience and inserted a few still city photos into an iMovie project, Gilbert's poorly written opus focuses on a group of appropriately catty Soul Kitten performers who now live the blues they'd previously just sung about.
Bogged down by undeveloped subplots, recycled storylines, and cheesy stock characters including the obligatory, flamboyantly gay director, Gilbert ultimately does herself in with the uneven blend of fantasy and hit-us-over-the-head morality via the introduction of Fantasia Barrino's “Good Conscience” and Faith Evans' “Bad Conscience.”
A bizarre musical misfire that doesn't work in any way shape or form, Soul employs the type of endlessly bitchy bickering that wouldn't have been out of place in a vintage and vastly superior Bette Davis or Joan Crawford movie such as All About Eve or The Women, save for the fact that in Gilbert's hands it's unconvincingly played as sudsy drama rather than sharp wit.
Thus it's laughably bad camp that may have been more effective if performed by drag queens as a intentionally funny satire of Tennessee Williams inspired over-the-top hysterical theatrics.
While I admire Gilbert's ambition, ultimately it isn't surprising that we can't be expected to fully focus on a tuneless musical that isn't completely focused on what it wants to be from start to finish.
And given the distaste we have for the script's mistreatment of the people populating the stage as well as the way that very serious topics are simply used to try and add a purported air of importance to this soulless group of Kittens, needless to say, it's back to Chicago's “Cell Block” for me.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.