Pssst! Wanna know a secret about ''Chicago,'' the jazz-age tale Miramax has been trumpeting primarily on the strength of eight Golden Globe nominations? Three little words: IT'S A MUSICAL!
Okay, so that's not really a secret. But it's being treated like one in ads and trailers that pull a curtain over the $45 million movie's 12 full-blown production numbers, most of which unfold as the daydreams of a murder defendant and showbiz wannabe named Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger). Teasers show Richard Gere in the role of Roxie's conceited attorney, Billy Flynn, while avoiding even a snippet of him crooning. They don't play up Catherine Zeta-Jones belting ''All That Jazz'' as hubby-and-sister killer Velma Kelly, either.
The camouflage doesn't bother Zellweger, who finds it hard to listen to herself sing. ''I hear my big brother yelling down the hallway,'' she says, ''the resounding 'SHUT UP!' when I was doing my best Paul McCartney under the covers at 7 years old.''
Well, that's her hang-up. What's the studio's? ''Musicals are not something Miramax knows it can make work,'' says first-time feature director Rob Marshall, 42, a former Broadway dancer and choreographer who got the ''Chicago'' gig after helming a highly rated TV-movie version of ''Annie.'' ''Even though they're very proud of this movie, they want to protect their investment.''
The studio's afraid that despite the modest success of 2001's pop-song pastiche ''Moulin Rouge'' (which grossed more than $115 million overseas but only $58 million domestically), a lot of moviegoers -- especially younger males -- may still wince at the sound of more-traditional show tunes. Miramax cochairman Harvey Weinstein is counting on Golden Globes and Academy Awards to grease the skids as ''Chicago'' builds on its so-far, so-very-good limited release. ''For [filmgoers] who resist, the awards and nominations break them down. They say, 'All right. If it's getting this much attention, I might as well see for myself what it's all about.'''