The cheers and ecstatic audience response as well as the glowing
reviews that greeted "A Chorus Line" when it opened Off-Broadway at
the Public Theater in 1975 offered some indication of it becoming an
unprecedented hit. But no one could have predicted just how big a hit
it would become. The show struck an emotional chord in adults, teens,
and especially theater enthusiasts. But I suspect what put it over the
top was that it was the first time that the public got a glimpse into
the hearts, minds, and souls of the dancers we had taken for granted
in show after show. Will a whole new generation respond to this
vibrant and remarkably fresh revival, its first since it closed on
Broadway in 1990, that has danced its way into the Gerald Schoenfeld
Theater for what should be another long time?
That we can still feel responsive to the passionately shared personal
life stories of dancers says something about the durability of one of
the most emotional musicals you are ever likely to see. Even for those
who don't feel much rapport with the difficulties that mark the life
of the dancers, in show business called "gypsies," the musical goes
way beyond feeling like a music and dance-propelled group therapy
session. These special "gypsies," originally a group of handpicked
proteges of Michael Bennett (who conceived, choreographed, and
directed them in a workshop-initiated project) came to be the subject
of one of the most extraordinary successes in Broadway history.
The show, basically a series of lyrically developed confessionals,
remains the most genuinely impassioned show biz story ("Gypsy"
notwithstanding) in the canon of American Musical Theater.
Many associated with the original production are keeping the flame
alive. Baayork Lee, who played Connie in the original production,
where she also served as an assistant choreographer, has re-staged the
show throughout the world. She has splendidly re-staged Bennett's
original choreography for this production. Bob Avian, who
co-choreographed the original production, has come out of retirement
to direct, and meticulously so. And who would dare change or alter
designer Robin Wagner's original mirrored settings or the costumes by
Theoni V. Aldredge?
Avian's direction and Lee's staging continue to reflect the sure hands
of theater artists who care deeply. You don't necessarily have to let
go of your memories of principals who left indelible impressions. But
these new "gypsies" bring a major emotional force to their individual
roles that is thrilling.
Even before its authors, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, had begun
to give dramatic structure to the hours of revealing taped
conversations between the director and the dancers, Bennett was
rehearsing his astounding company in a highly and provocatively
conceptualized audition process. Added to this was Marvin Hamlisch's
(best) score (with dynamic lyrics by Edward Kleban). The process
continues, as does the character of the director within the musical.
He is Zach (given a callous and blunt portrayal by Michael Berresse),
the demanding and aggressive choreographer who leads the dancers
through the demanding routines and also, often painfully, out of their
defensive emotional shells.
Amazingly, the funny/sad stories weave effectively through the music
and dance sequences with a strong central narrative thrust. Even the
strongly characterized Zach's emotional involvement with Cassie
(Charlotte d'Amboise), as revealed through the dance-spotlighted "The
Music and the Mirror" is designated as just another one of the show's
more emotionally-wrenching episodes. D'Amboise is not only touching
but also terrific as Zach's former lover and the "special" dancer who
has tried unsuccessfully to become a star but who now wants
desperately to get this job in the chorus ("I'd be proud to be one of
The success of this and any "A Chorus Line" must be measured by the
effectiveness of its individual performers, as well as by its
collective brilliance. Deidre Goodwin comes on strong and aggressively
sexy as the "almost 30" Sheila. Natalie Cortez, as the tennis
shoe-tapping Diana, put over the hit ballad "What I Did for Love,"
with Bronxian-incorporated overtones. Continuing to be psychologically
compelling is the half-funny half-sad monologue by Jason Tam, as the
Cyd Charisse-wannabe, Paul. Other performers who stand out include the
tall, lanky Ken Alan, who, as Bobby, decides during a low point in his
life that "to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant."
This is a valentine to all the "gypsies" - those relentlessly
committed dancers who appear in show after show mostly unrecognized -
who train and audition and hope to make it big but who rarely ever
make it into the solo spotlight. This gives me the opportunity to
mention the stand-out performance by Jessica Lee Goldyn. The blonde
and shapely Goldyn, who is making her Broadway debut, steps into the
spotlight as Val to put over the hilarious show-stopper "Dance: Ten;
Looks: Three." With all her commodities and talent in high relief, she
alone gives us the image of a dancer who could step out of the chorus
to become a star. To be fair, let's say that all 26 performers are
stars in their own right. Bravi to all. ***
- Simon Saltzman
"A Chorus Line," Gerald Shoenfeld Theater, 236 W. 45th Street. $85 to
The key: **** Don't miss; *** You won't feel cheated; ** Maybe you
should have stayed home; * Don't blame us.