By GUS SOLOMONS JR.
“A Chorus Line” is a near perfect musical, and the new production, directed by Bob Avian—assistant choreographer to the show’s creator, choreographer, and director Michael Bennett—proves the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The original staging remains intact, the time is still 1975 at a Broadway audition, and the choreography has been faithfully re-staged by Baayork Lee, who originated the role of Connie.
Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes—bell bottom dance pants on the men and leotards, tights, and thick-heeled dancing shoes for the women—give us an authentic glimpse of pre-hip-hop-generation dancewear; there are no cut-off sweats or split-sole jazz sneakers in sight. Set designer Robin Wagner’s backdrop of rotating mirrors reflects the dancers and ourselves back at us, and lighting designer Tharon Musser’s pinpoint spots still pick individual dancers’ faces out of the darkness in Natasha Katz’s adaptation.
The heart of the show is the gripping personal histories of sixteen finalists culled from a “cattle-call” audition, who are seeking eight coveted spots in the chorus line of a new Broadway show. Choreographer Zach (Michael Berresse) interviews them to learn the poignant, funny, bizarre back stories of these vividly appealing characters, which they tell with the help of Marvin Hamlisch’s freshly inventive tunes.
Mike’s (Jeffrey Schecter) “I Can Do That” recalls how he tagged along with his older sister to tap class and got smitten. Diana’s (Natalie Cortez in an impressive Broadway debut) “Nothing” tells how a sadistic acting teacher nearly crushed her showbiz dream. And young Mark’s (Paul McGill) ode to adolescence sparks teenage reminiscence by all his cohorts in “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.”
Newlywed Al (Tony Yazbeck) with his powerful baritone helps out his bride Kristine (Chryssie Whitehead) who can’t carry a tune in “Sing!” Val (Jessica Lee Goldyn) shamelessly flaunts her surgically enhanced “tits and ass” in “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three.” Statuesque, black, thirty-year-old Sheila (Dierdre Goodwin—a force of nature) recalls how everything was beautiful “At the Ballet,” where she could momentarily escape her less than happy childhood.
Indomitable Connie (Yuka Takara) is 4’11” and Asian but nonetheless, never out of work. Refined, upper middle-class Bobby (stellar dancer Ken Alan) is more yuppie than gypsy, but man, can he move. Natty Greg (Michael Paternostro) sports elegant black velour practice clothes and proclaims himself “homosexual.” And Paul’s (Jason Tam) tearful account of his molestation by men in 42nd Street movie houses, his subsequent stint as a “showgirl” in the notorious Jewel Box Revue drag show after dropping out of school, and his parents’ discovery—and acceptance—of his secret lifestyle tugs at your heart. The irony is that all these wonderfully rich personalities will ultimately be suppressed into anonymity, backing the star of the show.
Lead character Cassie (Charlotte d’Amboise, finally getting her well-deserved big Broadway break) has to convince choreographer—and former boyfriend—Zach that she loves dancing more than the stardom he groomed her for when they were together, and the residue of their broken relationship threatens to sabotage her chance for a new start in the chorus. Her solo tour de force “The Music and the Mirror,” earns d’Amboise star status as a performer, and ultimately, the job she’s seeking as a non-entity in the show.
A sudden injury in rehearsal prompts speculation by the dancers about what they’d do, if they couldn’t dance any more, a dancer’s constant nightmare. This scene feels a bit stagy and superficial in the writing, but Diana subsequently leads the chorus in the show’s heartbreaking anthem “What I Did for Love,” bringing us, and herself, to tears.
The concise, intermission-less two hours’ running time intensifies our emotional investment, just like that of the dancers at the audition. And the brilliance of Michael Bennett’s original concept, choreography, and direction has lost none of its luster three decades on.
Welcome back, “A Chorus Line!” It’s still the best ticket on Broadway—whether you’re a dance fan or not. This crisp new incarnation will inspire a whole new generation of talented dancer/singer/actors, and puts “Chorus Line” on track to reclaim its former title as the longest running musical in Broadway history.