First-time director Rob Marshall was the surprise winner of the Director's Guild of America (DGA) feature film directing award on Saturday night for his musical Chicago. The DGA honour is regarded by awards watchers as a key indicator of Academy Award success: since 1949 only five winners have not gone on to claim the Oscar statuette.

The accolade is yet more good news for the Broadway adaptation, which has gained momentum in steady fashion and this weekend passed $100m at the North American box office. Typically, the DGA honour translates into a best picture award at the Oscars. Chicago leads the field with 13 nominations; the Academy Awards take place on Mar 23.

Marshall, who hails from a background in choreography, beat off competition from fellow DGA nominees Martin Scorsese (Gangs Of New York), Roman Polanski (The Pianist), Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers) and Stephen Daldry (The Hours).

The night also saw Martin Scorsese win a lifetime achievement award, although Scorsese was expected to win the DGA prize for Gangs Of New York as well. If not Scorsese, Roman Polanski was another favourite for The Pianist. But the two old-timers were beaten by a newcomer.