REVIEW: City Center celebrates 75 years with “A Chorus Line”
As New York City Center marks its 75th anniversary, their annual fall gala presentation is a seven performance production of “A Chorus Line”, the groundbreaking 1975 musical conceived, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett. The show dramatizes an audition for an unnamed Broadway musical, diving deep into the individual lives of its chorus dancers before they synchronize as “one” in the most memorable, kick line finale in all of Broadway history.
With an iconic score by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban and a book by Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood (all of whom are now deceased), in its original incarnation, “A Chorus Line” shattered all the records, running nearly twice as long the longest-running musical prior (that was “Fiddler on the Roof”), single-handedly revolutionizing and re-energizing the American musical, and presiding over a sea change in the industry from 1975 to 1990.
Attending “A Chorus Line” this evening, though, was like visiting a museum of musical memory. For many, myself included, the show carries the weight of first love. It was, after all, the musical that made me fall in love with musicals. I am not alone, as evidenced by the knowing applause and conspicuous hugging and squeezing of seat mates that I observed across the mezzanine. Long before the fan-mania of “Hamilton”, “Wicked”, or “Rent”, there was “A Chorus Line”.
This production, faithfully directed by Bob Avian—Bennett’s original co-choreographer—and choreographed (really, re-staged) by Baayork Lee—the original Connie/professional “A Chorus Line” re-stager—both of whom filled these roles for the 2006 Broadway revival, is yet another facsimile of Bennett’s original production. It features the same iconic set by Robin Wagner, costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge, and lighting by Tharon Musser (adapted by Ken Billington) that were first seen at the Public Theater downtown in 1975—43 years ago.
“A Chorus Line” has officially become the amber fossil of musicals.
When this production was announced, I was thrilled to see a new logo design. This is, to my knowledge, the first major production to eschew the famous pinto inline title font. That decision teased that we might get something new. Instead, this “A Chorus Line” is the exact same version we have always seen: a copy of a copy of a copy. With knockout performances throughout, the cast is excellent, but even they cannot overcome the unmistakable whiff of paint by numbers that is happening on stage.
Lest you think me a curmudgeon, let me be clear: I thoroughly loved the show, laughing and crying, getting chills and thrills with abandon. “A Chorus Line” remains a favorite (remember: first love), a genius and powerful Pulitzer Prize winning musical, and this spirited production delivers exactly what it is meant to. There is, after all, nothing wrong with visiting a museum, but musicals in a museum (to perhaps take a metaphor too far) must be, by their very nature, reproductions. And the decision to present “A Chorus Line” as a reproduction is a conscious one.
Twenty-two years ago, Ann Reinking and Walter Bobbie had the guts to craft a new production of Bob Fosse’s “Chicago”—one that retained the style, but took its own distinct form. Someday, I hope someone will produce an “A Chorus Line” that does the same. Until then, another solid Avian-Lee photocopy will just have to do.
Bottom Line: to mark its 75th anniversary, New York City Center presents a gala production of “A Chorus Line” that is yet another facsimile of Michael Bennett’s groundbreaking 1975 original. Now the amber fossil of musicals, “A Chorus Line” remains genius and powerful, but is long past due for some re-imagination. Maybe next time.
“A Chorus Line”
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: 2 hours (no intermission)
Opening Night: November 14, 2018
Final Performance: November 18, 2018