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Friday December 13th 2019

Chicago | 2002

Chicago film location: Fermenting Cellar Building, Distillery District, Toronto
Chicago location: the prison block at 'Cook County Jail': Fermenting Cellar Building, Distillery District, Toronto

I know it’s John Kander and Fred Ebb again, and a musical devised by Bob Fosse again, but there are just to many echoes of Cabaret to justify the Best Picture Oscar.

Set in the titular city, the first thing to know is that none of the film was shot in Chicago – the movie was filmed entirely in Toronto.

The ornate ‘Onyx Theatre’, in which a starstruck Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) watches Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), needed to have an intimate auditorium but a vast and deep stage to accommodate the big production numbers.

That’s not the way theatres are usually constructed, so the ‘Onyx’ had to be built in the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery, which has been used as studio space and locations for plenty of films, including X-Men (as the concentration camp of the opening scene), Three Men and a Baby, Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic and The Recruit. Surprisingly, the convincingly grim prison interior and the courtroom, with its circus-ring design, were also sets built here.

Chicago film location: Fermenting Cellar Building, Distillery District, Toronto
Chicago location: Hunyak is hanged in the 'prison yard': Fermenting Cellar Building, Distillery District, Toronto

The imposing Fermenting Cellar Building of the Distillery itself is used as the forbidding exterior of 'Cook County Jail'. The courtyard, where innocent inmate Hunyak is hanged, is alongside the Fermenting Cellar.

Chicago film location: Trinity Street, Distillery District, Toronto
Chicago location: Roxie is carted away after shooting her lover: Trinity Street, Distillery District, Toronto

Under quite a bit of CGI, you can also recognise the Distillery's main Trinity Street as the street from which Roxie is carted away in the police wagon after shooting her lover.

Gooderham & Worts were (for a while at least) the largest distillery in the world and the buildings date from the company’s beginnings in the 1860s. Facing more and more competition, whisky distilling ceased on the site in 1957 (rum and industrial alcohol kept it going, as they do many of us) but by 1990, the distillery had closed for good.

The complex, on Mill Street just east of Old Town, gives has now been beautifully restored as the Distillery District, the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America, now housing designer stores, bars and restaurants.

Chicago film location: Oak Room, Casa Loma, Toronto
Chicago location: the office of lawyer Billy Flynn: Oak Room, Casa Loma, Toronto

Roxie’s decent husband, the much put-upon Amos (John C Reilly), visits the office of slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to plead for his help. Flynn’s elegant office is the Oak Room of Casa Loma, 1 Austin Terrace at Spadina Road, overlooking northern Toronto. This Gothic folly has proved a real boon to the city’s film industry, featuring as a Gothic backdrop in countless productions, most famously as Professor Xavier’s Academy in Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie (where the Oak Room becomes Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) office), as well as appearing as itself in Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, as the film set where Scott (Michael Cera) takes on Lucas Lee (Chris Evans).

Chicago film location: Canada Life Building, University Avenue, Toronto
Chicago location: the exterior of Billy Flynn’s office: Canada Life Building, University Avenue, Toronto

The office exterior, where Flynn slips into his Rolls Royce, is the entrance to the the fifteen-floor landmark Beaux Arts Canada Life Building, 330 University Avenue at Queen Street, just north of Osgoode underground station in central Toronto.

Chicago film location: Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto
Chicago location: the ‘Chicago’ courthouse exterior: Legislative Building, Queen’s Park, Toronto

Flynn knows a potentially high profile case when he sees one and takes on Roxie’s case. The courthouse entrance where Flynn presents the suitably made-over Roxie to the assembled press, led by Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski), is the Ontario Legislative Building in Queen’s Park. at the top of University Avenue, north of the city centre.

There’s a glimpse of Union Station, 65 Front Street, as the public eagerly laps up the ‘They Both Reached For The Gun’ headline in the newspapers.

Chicago film location: Parkwood Estate, Oshawa, Ontario
Chicago location: the home of socialite Kitty Baxter: Parkwood Estate, Oshawa, Ontario | Photograph: Shutterstock

Roxie is briefly upstaged when socialite Kitty Baxter (Lucy Liu) becomes the new celeb on the block after shooting dead her cheating husband and his two companions. Kitty’s luxurious apartment is the the Parkwood Estate, 270 Simcoe Street North, in Oshawa, about 35 miles east of Toronto. The gorgeous vaulted-ceilinged foyer is the house’s Loggia, and the apartment itself is its Art Deco Bedroom.

Parkwood, famous as the exterior of ‘Mutant High’, Dr Xavier’s ‘School for Gifted Youngsters’ in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men, has appeared in lots of films including Adam Sandler comedy Billy Madison, Shirley MacLaine’s Mrs Winterbourne, Bulletproof Monk with Yun-Fat Chow and Hollywoodland with Ben Affleck.

Chicago film location: Osgoode Hall, Queen Street West, Toronto
Chicago location: the press gather around as Roxie leaves hospital: Osgoode Hall, Queen Street West, Toronto

Not to be upstaged, the resourceful Roxie suddenly realises she’s having a baby. Poor hubby Amos doesn’t get a look in as the press scrum crowds around to photograph the ‘pregnant’ Roxie. The hospital entrance is that of Osgoode Hall, 130 Queen Street West. The six-acre site has been the location for legal activity in Ontario since the 1800s, housing the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court Of Justice and the Law Society of Upper Canada (which seems to have lead many people to assume the trial scenes were filmed here).

The window, from which the verdict is signalled to the newspaper deliveryman at the end of the trial, is once more the Legislative Building.

Chicago film location: Elgin Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto
Chicago location: Roxie and Verna finally perform together in the ‘Chicago Theatre’: Elgin Theatre, Yonge Street, Toronto | Photograph: wikimedia / Anton Bielousov

Velma and Roxie finally get together for their big number, set in the Chicago Theater, 175 North State Street at East Lake Street, Chicago. There’s only the briefest glimpse of the famous exterior, heavily heavily manipulated with digital effects to disguise modern surroundings (you can see the real Chicago’s elaborate lobby in The Untouchables).

The interior is a real theatre though. It’s Toronto’s sumptuous Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street. It’s half of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres complex – the last surviving Edwardian ‘stacked’ theatres (one built above the other) in the world. The Elgin has since gone on to become the 'Orpheum' cinema, above which Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives, in another best Picture Oscar-winner, Guillermo del Toro's The Shape Of Water.