A Chorus Line Proves Why It's a Singular Sensation
New York City Center revives Michael Bennett's original production for a weeklong run.
There's no better way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of New York City Center than with a full-on presentation of one of the most beloved musicals ever written. That's right, A Chorus Line, once the longest-running show in Broadway history, is back, but only for a week. And you'll definitely want to catch it before it's gone.
Created by Michael Bennett, with a score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line is inspired by real experiences. Bennett, who directed and choreographed the original production, famously gathered his dancer friends for late-night taping sessions where they told their own stories about their experiences going from show to show with little job security beyond the hope of a long run. In the original production, many of the performers who gathered for those evenings played facsimiles of themselves.
The resulting work explores the lives of nearly 20 dancers as they audition for a spot in an authoritative director-choreographer's new musical. A Chorus Line made a splash upon its debut at the Public Theater in 1975 — transferring to Broadway later that year, earning the Pulitzer, and gathering up nine Tony Awards — and became a worldwide phenomenon.
Since Bennett's death in 1987, the Chorus Line flame has been carried by original co-choreographer Bob Avian, and original cast member Baayork Lee. For most every professional production in New York and abroad, they restage the original show as it looked 43 years ago, complete with Robin Wagner's mirrored set, Theoni V. Aldredge's 1970s-style costumes, Tharon Musser's psychoanalytic lighting (here adapted by Ken Billington), and Jonathan Tunick, Bill Byers, and Hershy Kay's brassy, funky orchestrations.
That has its pluses and minuses. The 2006 Broadway revival ended up resembling a wax museum, without much passion and a featuring company of performers who didn't always look comfortable performing choreography that was meticulously sculpted for the bodies of the original performers. Fortunately, for the City Center run, this cast of triple-threats turns A Chorus Line into the vivacious experience we all want it to be.
Robyn Hurder, who played the ostensibly leading role of Cassie on the 2009 national tour, is particularly riveting as she reprises her work as a star dancer who lost her chance at stardom and is now literally begging for a job back on the line. Hurder intrinsically gets it and doesn't hide Cassie's inner desperation. She really does need this job, and her explosion of bottled up angst and tension, "The Music and the Mirror," is a showstopper of the highest caliber. A confrontational scene with her on-again, off-again lover, the tyrannical director and choreographer Zach, played by Tony Yazbeck, is equally compelling. Yazbeck, spends most of the show as a disembodied voice at the back of the house, laying himself as bare as everyone else.
In other roles, standouts include Jay Armstrong Johnson as self-obsessed dancer Bobby (his body language, alone, is priceless); an endlessly funny Melanie Moore as the ditsy Judy; Anthony Wayne as Richie, who performs the heart-stopping "Gimme the Ball" choreography during the ''Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" montage as though it were created specifically for him; and Jenna Nicole Schoen as Sheila, who beautifully finds the heart below her character's acerbic surface.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are disappointingly colorless performances from several crucial roles. Tara Kostmayer as Diana sings "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love" with a little too much polish, and Sarah Esty as Maggie, doesn't really hit all the notes during "At the Ballet." As Paul, a Latino dancer discovered working in a drag club by his parents, Eddie Gutierrez is disconnected from his should-be showstopping dramatic monologue and leaves a major emotional hole in the back half of this intermission-less production.
But oh, that choreography! There are so many absolutely incredible dance sequences in A Chorus Line that you can look past the few faults of this production. More important, for the various acting flaws, this cast performs the choreography like nobody's business, proving that Michael Bennett's work stands the test of time. We're lucky to have the opportunity to see this singular sensation once again, no matter what.