‘Chorus Line’ getting close to losing its bounce

By Ben Nyberg

McCain Auditorium’s stage hosted a dance troupe invasion this past Tuesday evening as the touring production of the long-running, award-winning Big Apple hit musical A Chorus Line came to the Little Apple.

As I sat there, one among a nearly full house crowd, I found myself wondering what it was that could draw so many to turn out for this particular show. At the end of the glitzy finale, I was farther than ever from a theory that satisfied me. What follows sums up the nature of my problem.

Unlike most music-enhanced dramas, A Chorus Line has a plot line that’s pretty easy to summarize. An audition for an upcoming sure-fire blockbuster Broadway show starts out by weeding a crop of nearly thirty hopefuls down to seventeen finalists and then, some two hours later (in both real and stage time), culls that set down to the required four female and four male winners.

In other words, there’s not that much in the way of story, so not a lot of narrative history to keep track of. And what there is doesn’t carry the sort of accretive complication found in, say, South Pacific or even Guys and Dolls. Sure, there’s the “big” question of specifically who’s going to get picked, but inasmuch as “a chorus line” is all about being “one” rather than “several,” the choice of the final eight doesn’t actually generate much suspense. So, little for lovers of traditional musical story.

The late Marvin Hamlisch contributed quite a serviceable musical score and a couple of memorable songs—”What I Did for Love” and “One”— but with all respect, it’s far from a knockout score. Furthermore, the music is supportive, not front and center (indeed, not even visible—were the four instrumentalists hiding under the covered pit?), so it’s hard to believe that it would be a significant draw for tune lovers.

Of course there’s the dancing, that which has to be the matter at the heart of every chorus line, and we do start off with a great (and by protracted reiteration heavy) dollop of synchronized dance routine. The show also closes with a group spectacle to feed any dance lover’s craving, but in between, except for Cassie’s standout solo “intermission” bit, “The Music and the Mirror,” not so much.

Instead, what we mostly get is a prolonged, nearly static lineup wherein the cast merely stand like a row of the usual suspects in an identity parade and get ordered one after another by Director Bossy Boots Zach to step forward and respond to whatever queries or orders it may please him to propose.

The result is a run of NPR StoryCorps-style autobiographical reflections designed to expose the character, etch the identity of these choric personalities in whom the script discourages us from taking any serious individual interest. So even those interested in dance have to do lots of waiting while the dancers stand immobilized, themselves patiently waiting their chance to do their turn. It does seem a waste of both time and talent.

What I’m forced to conclude is that there were, collectively, dribs and drabs enough of dance, music, and story back in 1975 to make a meal on, and that the acclaim earned by its earlier success still lends it credibility enough to keep it coasting on reputation for a while longer. But as most of its recent revivals have revealed, it’s likely not one of the masterpieces that just keeps getting better with age. It has passed its outdate, and the one-time pizzazz appears to have lost much of its fizz.

All that said, for many in Tuesday’s crowd the bounce clearly wasn’t gone—yet.

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