A CHORUS LINE – A Review

9 Jan

Broadway Across America, Hobby Center through Jan. 17

By JOHN DeMERS 

Michael Bennett’s 1975 love song to the “kids” behind the stars on Broadway knows a thing or two about setting its own bar way too high. “The greatest musical ever!” exude the TV and radio commercials filling our local airwaves for the national tour now stopping at the Hobby Center. And while I can neither feel nor fabricate any circumstance in which that boast might be remotely true, the show does – even after more than 30 years – have a playful but gritty swagger and a warm heart that pleases, even as we realize we’ve heard it all before. 

Of course, some of this déjà vu is A Chorus Line’s own fault, since its stage minimalism proved such a cultural phenomenon that many shows have borrowed from it ever since. For most average theater-goers, however, this was their first look at an actual theater audition, not to mention their first chance to hear young men and women talk about their lives with and without their dancing shoes on. The musical’s book by Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood looks with surprising depth behind the fixed stage smiles, though it cannot afford to linger on any single character for long. It’s impressive that we leave the theater thinking we know these people as well as we ultimately do. 

To this end, just as a photo can be worth a thousand words, a song can too – if it’s the right song. Big-bucks composer Marvin Hamlisch and his lyricist, the late Edward Kleban, fill the two-hour, no-intermission running time with talky cacophonies that merge when least expected into luminous moments of grace. Houston audiences are lapping up the catchy, early-on “I Can Do That,” the thoughtful and enigmatic “Nothing” and the ever-luminous anthem “What I Did for Love,” right along with the extra-colorful “Tits and Ass” (its off-color title strategically omitted from the listing of songs in the Playbill). 

In particular, the chance to see A Chorus Line after so many years allowed me to be impressed all over again by Kleban’s witty, cute, savvy, dark and dead-on observations about the aspirations we see before us. With extremely limited set and no costumes (until the famous finale called “One”) beyond tights and other thrown-together tryout attire, the show is all about those aspirations. 

To point out that A Chorus Line is an ensemble piece seems a bit redundant. Ironically, but true to the world of theater, even though each young man or woman we meet “on the line” is competing for a job, in most cases with some desperation, they all do become an ensemble by the end. Indeed, long before the mostly offstage director has made his casting selections and sent the bulk of them home, these dancers have listened to each other, supported and encouraged each other, even come in some limited way to love each other. Showing us this little miracle is one of the show’s greatest contributions to the stage and its literature. 

Certainly, in any production of A Chorus Line, the character of Cassie will receive the lion’s share of attention – her story as an aging dancer who has tasted the big time years before this audition but has stumbled and needs the work is the most fully sketched in by the creative team, right along with her past romantic relationship with the director. As Cassie, Rebecca Riker harks back (as she should) to the show’s dazzling original, Donna McKechnie, while adding a few twists of her own. Other standouts include Nicky Venditti as the tiny and troubled Paul, Selina Verastigui as Diana Morales (whose long and lovely vocal lines drive “What I Did for Love”) and Nathan Lucrezio as Al, who finds a creative way to help his new but tone-deaf wife find the notes (almost) in “Sing!” 

Make no mistake, A Chorus Line is not “the greatest musical ever.” But it may be the greatest musical ever about musicals – and especially about the often faceless and nameless people who bring them to life for us on Broadway eight shows a week. To quote another, much more somber denizen of the so-called Great White Way, “Attention must be paid.”

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2 Responses to “A CHORUS LINE – A Review”

  1. Paul J. Bartholomew January 12, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Good capsuled article! When do you come to Nashville? DATE? THEATRE? CAN’T WAIT! “BREAK-A-LEG” NATHAN! You’re one talented young man! Can’t wait to see you! People need a “break” from the worries of life! This will provide it! SEE YOU THERE!
    Paul and Christine

  2. Joseph and Patricia Harrison January 16, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Nathan:
    You are the best, and only the very best awaits you as you continue to grow in the theater!!!

    Can not wait to see you here in DC.
    Joe and Pat Harrison

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