A glossily refurbished revival of the Michael Bennett classic, A Chorus Line, has arrived on Broadway 16 years after the endearing musical ended a nearly 15 year run becoming in the process one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. When it opened in 1975 Chorus Line was considered an extraordinary ground breaking achievement winning nine Tony awards including wins for best score by Marvin Hamlisch, best lyrics by Edward Kleban, best book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante as well as multiple wins for the actors. The current reincarnation clones the brilliant original in almost every detail right down to the costumes, and while the dancing remains gripping, the evening fails as drama where the original soared.
As a reproduction the show looks as great now as it did 16 years ago. At first glance nothing has changed designers Robin Wagner (sets), and Theoni V. Aldredge (costumes) has given us what appears to be an exact replica of the first show. Natasha Katz has even adapted Tharon Musser’s wonderful lighting plan. Director Bob Avian, who co choreographed the first outing, has made a wise choice to carefully restore the original look and sound as a loving tribute to the landmark musical. When the curtain rises on the revival there is a rush of adrenaline that takes you back to the excitement from 1975 and your expectations grab hold with a spine tingling jolt as the dancers begin their routine that unfortunately fades as the evening unfolds.
The innovative story, conceived by Michael Bennett, about dancers auditioning for eight parts in the chorus of a big Broadway musical, where they in turn “put their lives on the line” revealing their unique stories in the process remains cleverly novel giving everyone a moment to shine. Bennett was a dancer himself and actually culled the material from hours of tapped interviews with real “gypsies” as an inspiration to their spirit of sacrifice. The writers then shaped it through workshops at the Public Theatre into what you hear today. Many of the “gypsies” actually appeared in the original providing some of the evening’s most moving and authentic moments. Their craving for the job and acceptance was beautifully realized, and their struggles clawed at your heart. Here their nervousness feels feigned and punctuated and while their tales remain heartbreaking, they have now been sentimentalized distancing you for the raw truth.
Each of the dancers/actors possesses wonderful qualities that fit their respective parts, but they have not been guided into living in the life of the text, and ultimately we feel nothing. What remains passionately resilient about the imaginative musical that is performed in just over 2 hours without an intermission is the exhilarating Marvin Hamlisch score, the fabulous lyrics by Edward Kleban, the intoxication of the vibrant dancing and the impressive choreography that has been stimulatingly restaged by Baayork Lee.
With advance bookings of almost 10 million there must be a new generation of theatre people, dancer’s included, who have never seen the landmark original, as well as many craving a blast of nostalgia. They may not know the difference or even care, because when these awesome performers break out into dance, singing and moving in one seamless whole the evening is, indeed, thrilling becoming “one singular sensation.” You forgive them their shortcomings and everything seems exactly as you remembered it.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
A Chorus Line opened on October 5, 2006 at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or at the box office.