I really wanted to like A Chorus Line.
It was a childhood favorite; I wore out my VHS copy of the movie. I knew every song from the Original Broadway Cast Album. However, I had never seen it staged live before last weekend. Knowing that Baayork Lee, one of the original interviewees that helped shape the show, was directing and choreographing added to my anticipation. I was revved to see a revival of one of Broadway’s classic shows.
While sharp dancers, many cast members are clearly not vocalists. Many singing voices were lackluster, problematic in both diction and volume (and occasionally pitch–and I’m not talking about “Sing,” where being off pitch is the point of the number). Further, about half are also not compelling actors–I genuinely couldn’t care less about characters I *did* care about on the soundtrack and in the movie. The girl who I saw play Diana Morales, a Latina from the Bronx, was horribly miscast. By comparison, the woman playing Sheila (the oldest dancer present, wondering if she should just give it up and open a dance school), owned every second she had the spotlight.
It probably doesn’t help that this is a show that is not aging gracefully. References far too old for most people, yet not old enough to be nostaligic include–Steve McQueen, Bob Goulet, that 42nd street in Manhattan was ground zero for prostitution and sex shops until the mid 90’s (to see what it used to look like see here, versus today here), method acting, and the majority of the costumes.
A Chorus Line is, at heart, about 17 dancers desperate to nail 8 parts. That is an ageless story, and as true today as it was in 1975. Leaving it as a period piece distances the audience and unlike “Thoroughly Modern Millie” where the fact that it was the 20’s was a key part of the story, leaving A Chorus Line in the 70’s does nothing to add to the show. There were a thousand missed opportunities.
I checked the show’s Wikipedia page for the show’s original date…and found that most of my program’s content about the show’s plot and history, and “other media” were plagiarized from that page, and I’d like my $20 SGD back (it also explains why the program talked about various productions of the show and the two documentaries about the show and completely ignored the 1985 movie, something I found baffling). The laziness inherent in plagiarizing the wikipedia page is perhaps the best summation of the show overall–that there was an obvious lack of effort.
This is a bare bones show. It’s supposed to take place on an empty stage, so it is simply the stage with a black background (that occasionally revolve to be mirrors). During Cassie’s solo, there are additional mirrors that descend from the ceiling–for no reason. She doesn’t interact with them, and they add nothing to the dance that the back mirrored wall doesn’t do. Why? Zach moves out into the audience, but without a spotlight or anything that could add to that. Again, a missed opportunity.
Did the show suck?
It wasn’t awful. Perhaps if it wasn’t coming on the heels of Wicked, which was a superior touring cast (either of the leads could have stepped onto a Broadway or West End stage), I wouldn’t have been so let down, but I’m not sure.
The dancing was superior (as it should be). Several numbers, such as “Dance 10, Looks 3” and “I can do that” were outstanding. The cast is trying, but I lay most of the blame at Lee’s feet. You can’t put a new spin on a character, when you’re being told to paint by number and go through the motions.
If you really want to see the show, or if you really really love musical theater, it’s worth it to buy a 2nd or 3rd tier price ticket for the remaining week that it’s here. Otherwise, if you’ve been on the fence whether or not to go…give it pass.