Friday, October 10, 2008

Theatre Review: A Chorus Line

Although the new promos for A Chorus Line like to call it "The best musical ever," I was very skeptical before going to see the touring production at the Boston Opera House last week. Like any good musical theatre junkie, I was familiar with the show and its place in musical theatre history, but a number of traumatic experiences with the show made me leery of paying money (even at the student rush rate of $25.00) to see it live. Besides a horrendous introduction to the play via the awful movie version (which should be a crime against humanity on some level) and a terrible student-produced version that I forced myself to attend while an undergraduate, my experience stage managing A Chorus Line was what convinced me that making a career in the theatre would probably be a bad thing.

However, after watching the show last week, I can honestly say that I have a greater appreciation and understanding of the show. Despite the decidedly mixed reviews the revival got when it opened on Broadway, the show was probably one of the best touring productions I've ever seen. Here are a few of my observations from the performance I saw:
  • While A Chorus Line is a staple of many a college and community theatre production, it is sometimes hard to find enough people who can sing, dance, and act well enough to truly pull off this show without making some points embarrassing or difficult to watch. The company of this production were uniformly good and are true triple threats. While some characters were a little over the top and therefore unlikable (I'm looking at you, Val), I can say that nothing was boring.
  • The absolute best part of the show (in my mind) is the Montage sequence, which includes "Gimme the Ball," "Nothing," and "Hello Twelve." It has always been my favorite part of the show, and I almost wanted the show to end with it.
  • The other highlight of the show was the character of Shelia. Not only does she have the fantastic song "At the Ballet," she is a surprisingly sympathetic character. The actress playing Shelia (Emily Fletcher) was able to balance the character's hard edges with moments of very believable vulnerability.
  • "The Music and the Mirror" section needs to be cut in half. I'm sure that Donna McKechnie was amazing when she did it originally, but it just feels very long when watching it.
  • I loathe the song "What I Did for Love." While I have always found the song maudlin, hearing Ed Kleban's (the show's lyricist) interview on NPR in which he talked about his hatred for this song solidified my dislike. FYI: Kleban hated the song because he felt that it didn't further the plot. Instead, it was written to be a standalone song that could be a hit and could be performed to promote the show. His dislike of the song was such that he refused to let anyone perform it at his memorial service.
  • As I watched the final casting choices that Zach (the director) makes, I actually hoped that the rejected dancers mugged him in the alley when he left. After putting them through the most emotionally draining and manipulative audition EVER, he deserves a good ass-kicking.
  • The show's finale, "One," is perhaps the most depressing ending I've ever seen. Despite the fact that many people get caught up in the splashy costumes and showy choreography, Michael Bennett actually wanted the ending to be disturbing. While the audience has spent two hours getting to know the individual members of the show, suddenly they are all dressed alike and are the dance equivalent to interchangeable cogs in a machine.
In short, while parts of the show are a little dated ("Dance, Ten. Looks, Three" just doesn't have the same shock value it once did), I heartily recommend this seeing production. Not only does it do the original show justice (which is much more than I can say about the film version), it also features a very talented cast and some great songs. Consequently, while I may not go so far as to call it "the best musical ever," it is an important and mesmerizing part of musical theatre history (and should make the creators of the musical versions of Young Frankenstein, The Little Mermaid, and Legally Blonde very, very ashamed).