Review: `A Chorus Line’

Opened July 9, Curran Theatre

The national tour of A Chorus Line features a cast that can dance,
but the singing and acting is, to say the least, spotty. Photos by Paul Kolnik

    

On second thought, maybe `Chorus Line’ is past its prime
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I didn’t experience one singular sensation at A Chorus Line now onstage at San Francisco’s Curran Theatre. Not one.

This leads me to think that the landmark 1975 musical, with its Tonys and Pulitzer, hasn’t aged all that well after all. Either that or it’s a show that just doesn’t stand up to multiple viewings.

Almost two years ago, the Broadway-bound revival of A Chorus Line had its world premiere in San Francisco, and that was thrilling. The young, talented company felt the weight of expectations and, for the most part, rose to the occasion. The show moved to Broadway, recouped its investment and is about to end a respectable run.

Now we have the national tour, here under the auspices of SHN/Best of Broadway, and it’s a far cry from the 2006 production, which many said was a far cry from the original.

I have a theory that Chorus Line is a first-time show. You’ll always love the first cast you saw, and you’ll be so pulled in by the show’s pre-reality TV reality mechanism that you won’t notice how creaky and dated it is. The emotions of the dancers, the actual excitement of finding who makes the cut at the end of a grueling audition is palpable the first time you see the show.

Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Edward Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch created a beautiful show that explored the very human need to be chosen, to be special and to find work you truly love. They chose the high-wattage world of Broadway performers, but there’s universality in their story.

Though I had seen various productions through the years (not the original or any variation of the original on Broadway), I loved the revival because it overcame the mid-’70s world of the show to find those universalities and connect with a modern audience. I got chills the first time the cast sang, “God, I hope I get it.” And the horn blasts during “The Music and the Mirror” made me quiver. I was a mess during the “One” finale and swore the advertising campaign was right: “The Best Musical. Ever.”

Well, now I’m not so sure. The show I saw at the Curran was ragged and uneven. It didn’t help matters that the sound system was rebelling and some of the actors had to perform their monologues without a mic (kudos to Jay Armstrong Johnson as Mark for handling the sound glitch like a real pro). In general, the show is well danced, but the acting and singing are erratic, and, in some cases, downright awful.

Bennett’s original staging was revolutionary in 1975, but Bob Avian’s re-staging (he was the co-choreographer on the original production) is limp. How many times can you bring in the mirrors to add some razzle-dazzle? And the Hamlisch-Kleban score, though it has high points (“One,” “What I Did for Love,” “I Hope I Get It”), also has weak spots, which are even more apparent with this company. The ridiculous “inner monologue” of the choristers wondering what they should talk about when the director (Michael Gruber) calls on them is cheesy at best.

Not all is lost here. Kevin Santos as Paul delivers the “I was a 16-year-old drag queen” monologue with dignity and genuine emotion. And Nikki Snelson as Cassie – last seen here and on Broadway as an imprisoned aerobics instructor in Legally Blonde – pours on the energy in her big solo, “The Music and the Mirror,” though she barely seemed to get through it.

Vocally throughout, there were pitch problems, and Natalie Elise Hall’s butchering of “Dance: 10; Looks: Three” was shocking. You have to hand it to her – she’s making a big choice to do something different, but her Judy-Holliday-meets-Kristin-Chenoweth routine is a horror show and seems like something from another show. How did director Avian let her get away with that?

Maybe I’ve reached my Chorus Line quota. I was bored, and it’s only a two-hour show. I didn’t care who got it, and the gold-lamé finale, though good to see like an old friend is good to see, was not loaded with charisma, but it was, like this production, an ambling shambler.

A Chorus Line continues through July 27 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$99. Call or visit www.shnsf.com.

2 thoughts on “Review: `A Chorus Line’

  1. Chad. I have to agree with you on this review. This was my 28th time to see the show since it first opened in New York eons ago. It was Eddy’s 34th time. I guess I am about played out with this classic musical. I still find the dancing exciting especially the last number when the cast is doing “One” “The Tap Combination” and of course the reprise of “One. I liked Mike not only singing but his dancing movies in “I Can Do That”. I really though Nikki Snelson went over the top in “The Music and the Mirror” and I am afraid to say that I really did not feel the pathos coming from Kevin Santos as Paul. I have to say I was more excited when I saw the semi professional production at Bus Barn several years ago. Those kids really wanted to be in big time Broadway show.

  2. Pingback: Chad Jones’ Theater Dogs » `Chorus Line’ documentary high kicks to glory

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