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Tuesday October 15th 2019

Chicago | 2002

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

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 and The Recruit. Surprisingly, the convincingly grim prison interior and the courtroom, with its circus-ring design, were also sets built here.

You can see the Distillery itself as the prison courtyard, where innocent inmate Hunyak is hanged.

The old distillery, on Mill Street just east of Old Town, gives its name to the surrounding Distillery District, the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America, now a National Historic site.

Chicago film location: Casa Loma, Toronto
Chicago location: the office of Billy Flynn: 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, as well as appearing as itself in Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

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

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 | Photograph: wikimedia / Leslie Mateus

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: Ontario Specialty Co, Church Street, Toronto
Chicago location: the beauty parlour where Roxie’s fans get a Triple Bob: Ontario Specialty Co, Church Street, Toronto

As Roxie’s fame grows, the beauty parlour, where ladies queue up to get a Roxie-style “Triple Bob”, is the period store front of the Ontario Specialty Co, 133 Church Street at Queen Street, which was the toy shop in which Matt Damon demonstrates a magic trick in Good Will Hunting (another film much of which was shot in Toronto).

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

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.

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.

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.