If you’ve ever wanted to pursue musical theater, A Chorus Line might be your favorite show of all time. The production pulls back the curtain on all the behind-the-scenes drama, and it is fascinating, especially as you get to know the auditioning performers on a more personal level.
Before this TUTS production, I had only seen the movie and excerpts of the stage show. It has lots of dancing, music by the great Marvin Hamlisch, and memorable lyrics by Edward Kleban. Ryan McGettigan’s minimalist scenic design makes perfect sense; we aren’t supposed to be distracted from the confessions of the performers as the casting director decides their fates. We instead focus on the music, the dancing, and the storytelling. This show was a true original, winning plenty of awards, including the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. And die-hard fans, including one of my theater critic friends, think it remains one of the best shows Broadway has produced—and they might be right.
But a few caveats are in order. For one, during the interminable “At the Ballet” number, we hear about adultery and family conflicts—which might be too much for kids. And although I was deeply moved by Paul (Eddie Gutierrez) regaling us of his scarring experience of dancing in drag, it might be too much for some who want more singing and dancing and less therapy. This is not necessarily a criticism; people just have their druthers.
Most of all, this show is long, with long numbers and no intermission. This pacing problem is most typified by "The Music and the Mirror," which features the wonderful Sarah Bowden as Cassie. We learn Cassie had a short-lived fling with casting director Zach (Clifton Samuels), who thinks Cassie should be a star, not slumming it in the chorus. What follows is a long song and dance where Cassie, on the other hand, says that she just wants to be in the chorus like everyone else. I think Zach was right, as she has this great jazzy dance, and she dances, and dances, and dances. It really isn’t a bad number—but it stretches on far too long.
I still enjoyed the catchy tunes. “I Hope I Get It” is a great opener, and I kind of did hope they all would get a part. Mike (Alex Joseph Stewart) sings “I Can Do That” and suddenly wants to hear how everyone else got into musical theater. And then I do hear it! Yet "At the Ballet” undercut its own pathos with its mess of voices that cancel each other out. Same with “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” I know adolescence is awkward, but this oddball song lasted as long as my entire teenage years.
Don’t get me wrong: This show is good, even excellent at times. But it is uneven. In terms of sheer dancing and singing, the male performers are stronger. Some of the female performers should not only get un-selected by Zach for his new musical, they should not have been cast in this TUTS show. The weak links were hard to watch.
On a brighter note, the stars who shine in this show will knock you out. Logan Keslar as the catty and prissy Bobby is great from beginning to end, and his acting is just as good as his superlative dancing. And no matter what I have written about this production, you should go anyway to see the fantastic Paige Faure as Shelia. I know this show is about, um, a chorus line, but as far as I am concerned, she is the singular sensation. She plays a character with depth, no matter how flippant she appears, and that, my friends, is how you pick out the superstars from the crowd.
Thru Sept. 22. Tickets from $40. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. 713-558-2600. More info and tickets at tuts.com.