This sturdy revival of “A Chorus Line” has everything going for it except the excitement of discovery, since it’s pretty much the same show that opened on Broadway in 1975. Director Bob Avian (then its co-choreographer) faithfully reproduces Michael Bennett’s masterful first edition, there’s a hard-working and likable new cast, and much of this great musical drama’s potency remains intact. But the Gotham-bound show (previews begin Sept. 18 at the Schoenfeld Theatre) has been gone from N.Y. only 16 years and begs the question: Can a verbatim revival conjure enough “event” status to re-conquer Broadway?
The original hit a then-record 6,137 performances and spawned endless touring, regional, community and even school productions. New version is not necessarily aiming for another record-setting Broadway run, but it remains to be seen if it can last long enough to break even and attract young auds as well as nostalgists who know every “step-kick-kick-again-please” by heart.
There’s certainly legitimacy to Avian & Co’s decision to keep “Chorus” a period piece, not updating the text (down to one chorine’s dream of being “the next Jill St. John”) or its psychological underpinnings (which remain matter-of-factly progressive anyway).
Design contribs don’t stray from the original’s brilliant simplicity, with Robin Wagner’s set of mirrored panels and Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes nicely evoking the mid-1970s sans caricature. Tharon Musser’s superb, complex lighting scheme is merely “adapted” by Natasha Katz. With a couple of he-manly exceptions, the cast members are slender rather than body-built in the way of contemporary show dancers.
Bennett’s blocking and choreography (latter restaged by Baayork Lee, the original Connie) remain much the same. While individual moves may seem dated, the constant reshuffle of group formations (heightened by Musser’s pinspot ingenuity) remains a wellspring of striking dramatic tension and aesthetic stimulus.
The most adventuresome and brilliant passages remain those when conventional music-theater showmanship is abandoned in favor of free-form song-and-dance eavesdropping, thanks to lyrics (Edward Kleban), book (James Kirkwood, Nicolas Dante), score (Marvin Hamlisch) and Bennett’s conceptual impetus. (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” is not so much a ditty as a title slapped on a superbly fluid sequence intercutting among various dancers’ memories.)
The brassy ordinariness of Hamlisch’s score always seemed apt enough for a show about the perspiration, rather than the inspiration, behind showbiz glitter. Comedy spotlights (“Sing!” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”) hold up, but the stabs at big emotions not so much.
Hamlisch’s music (and Kleban’s lyrics) still triumph more in the fleshing out of ensemble emotions rather than showboating individual ones. All sounded terrific, however, on opening night in Acme’s sound design and under the baton of conductor Patrick Vaccariello.
A tad more racially and physically diverse than in ’75, the new cast ingratiates itself as the evening goes on, just as they should. There are no star-making turns. But Jason Tam makes a plaintive impression as damaged-goods Paul; Deidre Goodwin is a snappy, sassy Sheila; Mara Davi as Maggie sports perhaps the evening’s sweetest pipes; and Ken Alan gives good Paul Lynde as Bobby. Dance 10, vocals seven for the lot.
It will take another “Chorus Line” to take things a step further: One can easily imagine a slimmed-down revision running 90 minutes or so. That tighter version could trim the rambling ex-lovers’ spat between director Zach (Michael Berresse) and crawling-back-to-the-chorus former “featured dancer” Cassie (Charlotte d’Amboise). It might find other places to cut in some of the ensemble chat about how tough showbiz is — “What I Did For Love” distills that sentiment crisply enough — or even (at risk of seeming heretical) such charming but trite numbers as “I Can Do That” or “Nothing” (songs nicely performed here by Jeffrey Schechter and Natalie Cortez, respectively).