Tits and Ass Aren’t Quite Enough for this Chorus Line

There is one thing that I know for sure after seeing A Chorus Line, the American touring production that plays at the Cannon Theatre until November 30th, 2008, it’s that I am damn glad that I never have to get through a Broadway dance call. The show hinges on seventeen dancers who are competing for eight roles in the chorus of a Broadway show. The director, Zach, lines the seventeen of them up and gets them to give glimpses into their personalities and personal stories of their experiences and relationship to the stage through monologue and song.
The musical was originally conceived by dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens and took the form of several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, including eight who eventually appeared in the original Broadway cast. Michael Bennett was invited to join the group and quickly took over most of the proceedings and became instrumental in turning these workshops into a successful Broadway show. A Chorus Line, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, opened first at the Public Theatre and the run sold out immediately so it moved to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway July 25, 1975. It ran for 6,137 performances, until April 28, 1990 (the longest-running production in Broadway history up to that time), won nine Tony Awards, and had a successful revival on October 5, 2006.
It is clear that this musical was written at a specific time and place about seventeen very specific people who were all products of the time in which they lived and grew up. I found that the musical was significantly dated- and while I am not opposed to historical pieces being revived in the least- I found that director Bob Avian’s choice to not root the show in any specific time created a sort of unclear wishy-washiness. Was I supposed to believe that this musical dramatized the plight and experience of young American performers in New York right now who are the same age as me? Or was I supposed to find it striking how difficult it must have been for young homosexual dancers to feel accepted in the early 1970s or for young women to strike out on their own without husbands or fathers to provide for them? Or was I supposed to make a connection between the experience of these young people and the young people I encounter in my daily life in the theatre? I think I can understand why this musical spoke so strongly to the public in 1975 because, like Rent in 1996, the show had young people speaking to their peers through music in their own language about their own experience. Unlike Rent, however, that speaks so strongly about social issues, A Chorus Line doesn’t seem to have the same power as it used to simply because the characters don’t speak our language. They sound like we imagine our parents may have once when they were our age.
The show also raised the question for me: what is a triple threat? It requires tremendous skill to be in A Chorus Line. The dancing must not only be perfect, but also infused with the personality traits of each character. The actors must all be able to sing and act with far more skill than the chorus dancers they are portraying. However, is it possible for a dancer to have time to train to be a perfect singer and actor as well? Very few Broadway stars are quite as proficient at dancing as the chorus dancers are, isn’t it unfair for us to expect these dancers to have Broadway star caliber voices and acting talents? I’m not sure I have the answer. I also recently sat in on a rehearsal for the Ross Petty Pantomime Cinderella (playing at the Elgin Theatre November 28, 2008 to January 4, 2009- http://www.rosspetty.com/) and I have a newfound utter respect for the skill of incredible dancers.
The dancing in this production of A Chorus Line is uniformly brilliant and extremely captivating. Most of the singing voices are lovely, but gentle, and don’t have the big, belting capacity that turn songs like “What I Did For Love” and “Nothing” into showstoppers. Gabrielle Ruiz’s Diana lacked the edge that gives her character’s journey throughout the audition an arc that culminates in the glimpse of her vulnerability. However, Robyn Hurder shone as Cassie, both in her dancing and in “The Music and the Mirror,” Hollie Howard was delightful as Maggie and her voice is lovely and pure which suited the character nicely. Clyde Alves gave a whirlwind exhibition of skill in “I Can Do That,” Anthony Wayne had strong characterization as Richie, and Dena DiGiacinto burst with presence and poise as Bebe which drew my eye even when she wasn’t in the spotlight. The star of the show was Kevin Santos as Paul whose monologue (delivered to perfection even though there was a medical emergency in the audience in the middle of it) was the highlight of the whole evening.
I’m not sure that A Chorus Line is indeed “THE BEST MUSICAL. EVER.,” but it was interesting to take seventeen dancers out of the line, to turn the spotlight on them and to see if any one could be called a singular sensation.
A Chorus Line runs until November 30th, 2008 at the Cannon Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario. For tickets please call 416 872-1212.

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