A Chorus Line
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 11, 2006
Watching the current Broadway revival of A Chorus Line is like reuniting with an old and dear friend: everything you always loved about them is still there, but you appreciate them on a deeper level now. You're both older. Maybe they've changed, but it's more likely you have. Either way, it turns out there's a lot more to your friend than you previously thought or knew—a profundity, if you will. It was probably there all along, but you just didn't see it.
One thing's for sure, though: in an age of musical confections adapted from either movies or pop group songbooks, A Chorus Line reminds audiences that sincerity, originality, and even a little melancholy can make for a meaty and thrilling night of theatre.
It's s et in a Broadway theatre, where Zach, an autocratic director-choreographer, is holding auditions for his latest show, and 17 dancers vie for eight spots in the chorus. But, Zach is interested in more than just whether or not they can dance: he wants to know who they are. So, he interviews everyone, one by one, about their backgrounds. No one's prepared for this unorthodox approach, but, slowly, they all open up and tell their stories.
Book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante focus almost solely on the dancers. As each person steps forward they put themselves on the proverbial line, the one that will decide whether they get the job or not. For many of them, being themselves proves to be the hardest part of the audition, a tightrope walk for those who entered show business to get away from their origins.
For instance, there's Kristine, a leggy dancer who admits that she originally wanted to be a singer like Doris Day—until she learned she couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Another dancer, the tough-as-nails Val, reveals that she had plastic surgery when she found out she was losing jobs because of her looks. The jaded and sassy Sheila tells how she found refuge from her cold, indifferent family in the magic of ballet.
Then, there's Cassie, who is probably the best dancer of the bunch. Zach should know: he used to live with her. More about that later.
A Chorus Line's original co-choreographer, Bob Avian, directs this time around, and emphasizes the show's inherent sadness and frustration. Lurking underneath's Val's bon mot-laden ode to cosmetic surgery, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," lies the outrage of a person who had to buy "tits and ass" in order for her talent to be noticed. "Nothing," one of the show's signature songs, chronicles the tug-of-war between Diana, a feisty Latina, and the high school drama teacher who has no faith in her. Paul, a nervous, young Hispanic man, talks about how he hid his first paying theatre job—as a drag performer—from his family out of shame.
But, A Chorus Line doesn't skimp on the heat. Lovingly re-staging director-choreographer Michael Bennett and Avian's original steps, choreographer (and original cast member) Baayork Lee ignites A Chorus Line's sizzling razzmatazz. Combined with Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban's dynamic score, Lee's work sends the show soaring into the stratosphere. The opening number, "I Hope I Get It," sends shivery thrills down the spine as Zach kicks it off with "a five, six, seven, EIGHT!" and the dancers cut loose. The extended group number, "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love," gives us a look into the cast's collective entry into adolescence, and gives them another terrific opportunity to strut their stuff.
Best of all, though, is "The Music and the Mirror," in which Cassie and Zach finally confront their broken relationship. She walked out on him when both their careers were on the rise; he thinks chorus work is beneath her, that she should be playing bigger parts. But, Cassie hasn't worked in two years, and she needs a job. And, she's realized that she's a gypsy at heart: the chorus line is where she belongs. "God, I'm a dancer, a dancer dances," she tells him, and then unleashes a solo that simultaneously encapsulates her agonizing humility and the rapture she experiences on stage.
The entire cast is wonderful: they make A Chorus Line their own, instead of trying to duplicate those who came before them. Everyone here is a genuine triple threat, which makes singling out anyone largely irrelevant. But, for me, some of the standouts include Michael Berresse and Charlotte d'Amboise as Zach and Cassie, respectively; Jason Tam, in a touching performance as Paul; Chryssie Whitehead as the tone-deaf Kristine; the exuberant James T. Lane as Richie, who passed up a teaching career for life on the wicked stage; Yuka Takara as the diminutive but plucky Connie (choreographer Lee's original role); and Michael Paternostro as Greg, an effete and witty gay chorus boy.
Like the original production before it, the new incarnation of A Chorus Line is one for the ages. This is one singular sensation that has returned just in time to electrify a new generation of theatregoers. Welcome back, old friend.