'A Chorus Line'
by Elizabeth McPherson
January 16, 2007 -- Schoenfeld Theatre, New York City
Having seen “A Chorus Line” as a child, both on Broadway in New York and a road version, this reviewer eagerly anticipated seeing a revival although one is always a bit worried that it will not live up to memories. That was not a problem. This production stands as a masterwork of musical theatre that has carefully maintained its integrity.
The overall effect of the performance was getting to know 19 people, feeling their triumphs and their setbacks, experiencing their competition and camaraderie. The show leads the audience through a whirlwind of emotions today, just as it did 30 years ago.
It is a task of tall order to revive a show written from the dancers’ perspectives of the 1970s. Some of the revival’s cast were not even born when the original show premiered in 1975, however they perform before an audience made up in part of people who certainly remember the 1970s and may have even seen the original cast.
In the original production, some dancers were actually playing themselves or partly playing themselves. Because of that, there is quite a shift from the original to the revival. Before watching the performance, I found myself wondering what this version would be like. What would their stories be? What were their childhoods like? Why do they dance? This cast seems to have already moved beyond chorus parts, although the use of the chorus has evolved through the years. Broadway today is almost a different entity from the Broadway of thirty years ago. New York itself has changed dramatically. What a funny line Zach states during the performance, wondering with concern what age Paul was that he used to hang out in Times Square with his father. Times Square today is clean as a whistle compared to the 1970s.
Some of the cast embodied their roles more fully than others. Of particular note were Bobby (Ken Alan), Richie (James T. Lane), Diana (Natalie Cortez), Val (Jessica Lee Goldyn), Larry (Tyler Hanes), Greg (Michael Paternostro), and Paul (Jason Tam). One of the most stirring moments of the evening was Paul’s soliloquy. Tam has reached deeply into this character. Paul’s stirring story of how he started dancing brought tears to my eyes; I cried when he injured his knee. There was no role-playing, no distance-- Tam was Paul.
A few characters, however, seemed to play someone else instead of fulfilling their own roles, as if they were wearing a shoe that didn’t quite fit. There was also a lack of chemistry between Zach (Michael Berresse) and Cassie (Charlotte d’Amboise), although their characters were well-defined, and an equal lack of chemistry between Zach and Sheila (Deirdre Goodwin). Because of dialogue, one knows that Cassie and Zach have had a prior relationship, but the interactions between them lacked spark. Between Sheila and Zach, there was flirtatious dialogue, but it fell flat.
The dancing throughout the show was stellar. That the steps do not look dated is testament to the original choreographers, Michael Bennett and Bob Avian, and the re-stager for this revival, Baayork Lee. It was captivating to see the development of the choreography from steps learned in the audition to the final number where everyone becomes a face in the crowd, no longer distinguishable as individuals. And Cassie’s solo must be one of the most difficult dancing/singing solos ever staged. The stamina and control required to switch back and forth between singing and dancing seem to come to d’Amboise with ease. Not once did she even look like she needed to catch a breath, and yet her voice and dancing emanated force and emotion.
The songs have been ringing through my head for days, as have images of the dancers “on the line.” The power of this play lies in retelling human stories with which each of us can identify on some level. “A Chorus Line” reaches out to take the audience by the hand and draw them into a dancer’s world, but it is everyman’s world as well.
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