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 them”).
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. ***
“A Chorus Line,” Gerald Shoenfeld Theater, 236 W. 45th Street. $85 to $110. 212-239-6200.
The key: **** Don’t miss; *** You won’t feel cheated; ** Maybe you should have stayed home; * Don’t blame us.