3/13/2022 A CHORUS LINE City Springs Theatre Co
STILL SINGULARLY SENSATIONAL
During the past decade or so, I have had the singular pleasure of seeing and reviewing several productions of the iconic A Chorus Line, Broadway’s longest running musical (pre-Phantom, of course). My experiences have generally been a mixed bag – a combination of nit-picky quibbles, and full-blown joy-wallow. City Springs’ mounting is probably the best of the lot, a (very few) minor quibbles notwithstanding.
Before discussing the merits of this cast and production, let me plagiarize my own prior reviews to “set the stage,” as it were.
During the seventies (I was in my twenties, then), I’d seen A Chorus Line about a half dozen times, loving it every time. Even though I trip over all my left feet every time I try to dance (*), I still saw it as “my” story – a young person’s story of drive, of ambition, of finding that muse that gives meaning to life.
Now that I’m pushing seventy, my life is driven more by habit than passion, but I still can’t help but find a place of affection for this piece, meaning I usually approach it with a high bar of expectations, which have not always been met.
So, what about my previous quibbles? The opening number no longer feels too long -- a lot of personality sparks keep the dancers from having that same-old same-old faceless quality the 2009 tour had, giving them a most welcome individuality. The pseudo-suspense of “who will be cast” no longer seems to be an issue, because, frankly, the show always was more about “how did we get here” than “who will win,” and any suspense is necessarily contrived and arbitrary. Okay, the adolescence number (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen”) still seems long, but now,
it gradually builds momentum to a frenzied climax, so it doesn’t seem TOO long. After all, most of these characters are less than a decade out of adolescence, so it makes sense that all those angst-filled years are still very much on their minds.
As before, any quibbles pale in comparison to everything that still works. The youthful drive and energy of the cast (none of whom were even alive when first I saw the show) the confessions that strike at the heart of choosing a necessarily short-term career in dance, the bits of candor that ring true even now, the air of hopeful desperation and half-expected rejection. I still love the simplistic stagecraft, the mirrors that multiply the cast into infinity, the faceless final number that drives home the point that these are NOT the stars of tomorrow. And I still love the climactic “What would you do if you can’t dance?” scene, a dramatic high point that ties the show together and underscores that these kids are in it because they have no other choice – they can’t NOT dance.
The show is a definite product of the seventies, and really needs to be played as a period piece. But the accompaniment has been drained of its seventies sound, in (I suspect) a misguided attempt to make it “timeless.” But the attitudes towards homosexuality do NOT have a contemporary ring, and the references to celebrities of the era will be lost on under-forty-somethings of 2022. May I also ask why Connie is costumed in overalls, the worst possible choice for a dance audition AND for a character sensitive about her height and age?
But let’s make no bones about it – the direction and choreography by Baayork Lee (Connie in the original cast) is constantly surprising and engaging, keeping the young cast on their toes and in the air. The lighting by Abby May is nothing short of superb, keeping the cast out of the shadows, creating colorful background tableaus, and most important, engaging the mirrors without spilling into the audience (for the most part). Actors are lit from both sides so their reflections are equally well-washed. The exception is “The Music and The Mirror,” which purposefully keeps the reflection “back lit” (as it were) to highlight the emotional through-line of the scene.
And this is a dream cast, all of whom have outstanding moments to show off their massive vocal and dance skills. I especially liked Sarah Bowden’s Cassie, Anne Otto’s Sheila, Emmanuel Cologne’s Paul, Orianna Hilliard’s Diana, and .... but I seem to be listing everyone here. Needless to say, they were all exceptional, with Billy Tighe’s Zach (a voiceover until mid-Act II) overseeing all and keeping them “in line” as it were. The ensemble work here perfect!
So, exactly how have the decades changed me and my perception of this show? Well, the “Things I do for Love” have definitely suffered some “scope creep.” The acquisition of family (and mortgage) have rearranged my priorities, despite the empty nest (daughter in NY, spouse Sky Dancing as a Flight Attendant), and there’s little I cannot NOT do (including seeing plays and writing about them). Rather than identifying with these characters as I did in my twenties, I now look at them with nostalgia, with an older person’s sense of “I wish I could find that passion again.” The irony inherent in that statement, of course, is, that if we are suitably passionate about anything, we rarely see it as “passion” – just as part of who we really are.
To fall back on a critic’s cliché, A Chorus Line is still a “Singular Sensation” and this production is singularly sensational. In spite of a few passing-decades-stress-cracks, it can still high-kick its way into your heart. It is a young person’s show that brought back to life the young person I still believe I am.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #AChorusLine #CitySpringsTheatreCo)
* In spite of playing a dead man in Lucky Stiff recently, I had a few moments of choreography, and yes, during one performance, I did literally trip over my own feet and fall on my face.