The stage version of the original "A Chorus Line" was, so far as I can recall, the first Broadway show I ever saw in person, and it’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life. People talking about being gay, masturbating, we dreams … for a pre-pubescent proto-gay, this was eye-opening stuff.
I hadn’t seen a live production (one can hardly count the messy 1985 film version) since until this week, when the national tour of the recent revival hit town.
Maybe it’s the passage of 30 years, or maybe it’s the production, but as socially relevant drama, "A Chorus Line" simply doesn’t pack the wallop it did. OK, let’s be frank: It’s the production. I can see how the show would still affect a 10-year-old profoundly. But this staging doesn’t quite sell it.
You’d think, considering that the current director co-directed the original and that the current choreographer (who appeared in the original as Connie) recreated Michael Bennett’s dance numbers, the effect would be the same. But there’s something off about much of it.
The script and score are strong as ever. Seventeen aspiring dancers stand onstage for two hours, sharing personal stories about what got them to where they are now, and sing marvelous Marvin Hamlisch-Ed Kleban songs along the way, almost all classics: "One," "At the Ballet," "What I Did for Love." But I kept hoping for chillblanes that never came.
The dancing is fully up to par, as is much of the acting (Bryan Knowlton, who plays Paul for half the current run, does very well in his monologue about growing up gay). But the singing never soars. Rebecca Riker’s Diana, in a costume that looks like Robin the Boy Wonder’s hand-me-down, doesn’t delve into the sad irony of "Nothing;" Hollie Howard just misses the brilliant high note in "At the Ballet." The salve is many handsome men in tight-fitting clothes to pant over, but it’s a small comfort.
Maybe no version of "A Chorus Line" could compare to the original; perhaps my expectations were unreasonably high. I’ll concede that. It’s certainly theatrical history, and deserves consideration for that. But the greatest musical ever, as the posters say? Not this production. Not this time.