“A Chorus Line” has timeless dancing but dated story

By Lucy Komisar

“A Chorus Line,” conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, became a legend after it opened on Broadway more than 30 years ago. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and ran for 15 years. Perhaps time has dimmed its luster, or what was shocking or unconformist then is now just ho-hum. The dancing is still exciting, but the story (book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante) often seems offensive rather than groundbreaking.

width=252Let me explain. Zach (Michael Berresse), the director-choreographer, who is auditioning dancers for a Broadway show, conducts a virtual inquisition, insisting that the dancers tell him intimate details of their lives. It‘s never clear just why Zach has to know. The dancers don‘t want to do it – who really would? — but they need the work. He‘ll pick eight out of 17 for the chorus.

The stories are intimate, quite a few about the anguish of gay men in the closet, which was a shocker then but not now. One is about a woman whose body is not deemed attractive enough, so she has it surgically fixed. And there are problems with parents and peers. Why do we need to know these things? And what do they really have to do with dancing? This seems an early example of invasive “reality show” intrusions into people‘s private affairs for the sake of nosy audiences.

Was the purpose to show that dancers had tough lives? Well, so do many people in other professions. And one might have told the stories without virtually extorting them as Zach, under Bob Avian‘s direction, appears to do. Of course, the point here is that the man the dancers depend on to advance their careers is nasty. So are people with power in many other kinds of work.

width=252All that said, the jazzy show dancing by Baayork Lee, restaging Avian‘s original choreography, is, of course, exhilarating. Cassie (Charlotte d‘Amboise), the older dancer who had lived with Zach and walked out on him, is smashing as she demands, “Give me a job.” Her voice reverberates with an unforgettable Broadway sound. Diana (Natalie Cortez) is witty and charming in her number about the High School of Music and Art. There‘s plenty of talent on that line, though a few of the characters are pokey or tired or unnecessarily stereotyped.

width=252The signature melodies (music by Marvin Hamlisch), “Give me your attention” and “She‘s the one,” are everything you want from the musical stage. The best number is the glittering gold close, “One,” a glorious dance about dreams and illusions, with performers in straw and top hats and bowlers that conjure up Bob Fosse. (“One….singular sensation.” Remember?) The movements are exciting and vibrant, the kicks and twirls of lines in sync mesmerize. And the dancers, dressed alike in a shimmering gold that melds their individuality into a blazing unity, shows what deserves our attention.

Now, if one could keep the dancing and reinvent the story line….

“A Chorus Line.” Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Conceived by Michael Bennett. Directed by Bob Avian. Choreography by Baayork Lee. Sets by Robin Wagner. Costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge.

Starring Ken Alan, Brad Anderson, Michelle Aravena, David Baum, Michael Berresse, Mike Cannon, E. Clayton Cornelious, Natalie Cortez, Charlotte d‘Amboise, Mara Davi, Joey Dudding, Pamela Fabello, Lyndy Franklin, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Deidre Goodwin, Tyler Hanes, Nadine Isenegger, James T. Lane, Lorin Latarro, Paul McGill, Heather Parcells, Michael Paternostro, Alison Porter, Jeffrey Schecter, Yuka Takara, Jason Tam, Grant Turner, Chryssie Whitehead, Tony Yazbeck.

Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45 St. Mon – Sat 8 pm; Wed & Sat 2 pm. Running time 2:05. $86.25 – $111.25. 20 tickets at $20 (limit two per person) day of performance at box office through ticket lottery. Lottery tickets distributed 2 ½ hours before performance (11:30 am for matinee, 5:30 pm for evening); drawing 2 hours before performance. 212-239-6200. http://www.achorusline.com/.

Photos by Paul Kolnik.

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4 Responses to "“A Chorus Line” has timeless dancing but dated story"

  1. Macklin Crewe   Aug 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Lucy, not only do you not pay attention to the story but you lack the empathy to appreciate that these dancers have “drama” going on far beyond the stage. As Zack mentions some there are some some roles to be done by the actors. Dancers don’t read well so he asks them to tell them a bit about them selves. This is a common practice for all people auditioning in theater. It allows them to be themselves and for the director to see what he has to work with. More importantly, if you can’t identify with the highs and lows of people’s lives, now matter how irrelevant it may seem by today’s standards, then maybe theater is not for you. Let’s face it, your article just invalidated the works of Shakespeare … among other classics.

  2. Jer Eddy   Oct 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    Zach’s reasons are made clear after he’s picked the 17. As well as the reason given in the previous response he also says that he wants to find out who the people actually are and how they respond to each other so that he can ensure his eventual line of 4 & 4 are able to work well together.

  3. Tom Rainbow   Apr 19, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    There are so many things wrong with ths review that one is not quite sure where to begin.
    “And what do they really have to do with dancing?” These dancers are successful despite their histories.
    “Diana (Natalie Cortez) is witty and charming in her number about the High School of Music and Art.” I think you’ll find the number (and her back story) is a little darker than “witty and charming”.
    Cassie wants the “chance to dance”, not demands “Give me a job”.
    “The signature melodies (music by Marvin Hamlisch), “Give me your attention” and “She‘s the one,”” – don’t recognise either of these titles from the show.
    “The best number is the glittering gold close, “One,” a glorious dance about dreams and illusions, with performers in straw and top hats and bowlers that conjure up Bob Fosse” It’s about precision an anonymity, not dreams and illusions; and the “gold close” – I think you mean the finale -has neither straw boaters nor bowlers. The biggest sin is to say that the number “conjures up Bob Fosse”: the choreography of Bennett/Avian couldn’t be further from the stylised, pose-y choreography of Fosse, which is what makes the show in its entirety, so refreshingly different.
    Sorry, not this time, Lucy.

  4. Meemoo   May 13, 2016 at 12:05 am

    This seems like a personal objection to subject matter as opposed to an analysis of the value or worth of the production. It lacks research on how the musical was originated (which was through a series of workshops in which interviews with real Broadway dancers were recorded and eventually provides the material for A Chorus Line). The original musical is sometimes described as “nearly plotless.”‘ If you want fabulous dancing with plot, then why not watch a more typical musical, or even a ballet, or dance show? Chicago and An American in Paris have a lot of dancing and very distinct plots.


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