I was very excited to hear that A Chorus Line was coming to town. The same kind of excitement I have when any good production of a well-known Broadway musical comes to Tel Aviv, which doesn’t happen too often in our neck of the woods! I was even more excited that the production was affordable because I got last minute tickets. And not great tickets mind you, but tickets nonetheless.
For me, the main point of interest was the score – while I don’t know all of Marvin Hamlisch’s work, I’ve listened to Streisand’s velvety rendition of the title track of The Way We Were too many times to count. So off I went to see the Bronowski Productions rendition of the musical and to “get” first-hand what all the buzz was about.
There we were – a packed house at the Tel Aviv Center for Performing Arts on the last night of a 16 performance run – trying to touch Broadway, trying to recapture what that audience felt years ago, circa 1975 and for years thereafter, hoping to feel what they must have felt when they went to see the original Broadway production, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett.
But we didn’t get to recapture that feeling – at least I didn’t, and I think many others that night agreed with me. Yes, all the songs were there – but I guess what was lacking for me was some sense of authenticity.
Looks: Ten, Dance: Three?
A Chorus Line is an attempt to capture the struggles of a group of dancers contending for a precious few parts in a Broadway musical directed by the ruthless Zack whose idea of an audition is not what any of the dancers had in mind. CV’s cannot truly reflect this group’s abilities for the director, nor can close-up photos of their faces, symbolically held up by each dancer as a mask that covers their own faces.
These dancers, with Zack’s ex-girlfriend Cassie among them, are asked to go beyond the so-called “mask” that is typically presented in an audition and to instead dig deep to expose their soul and explain what it was that made them turn to dancing. The lyrics to rhythmic catchy songs like “God I Hope I Get It” – referring to getting the part in the chorus line, of course – or “And” in which the dancers reveal some painful childhood memories, contain bits of the truth about their lives.
But this production, choreographed and directed by Baayork Lee, who participated in the workshops in 1975 during which the musical was conceived and also played one of the dancers, wasn’t wholly convincing in its execution. The lyrics and music were there, but the actors’ own efforts to go beyond the mask didn’t ring true.
Sean Mulligan’s portrayal of Zack, for example, did not capture the tough and mean director I expected. In some places, his attempt to sound cold and monotonous felt as though he was just reading his lines. And Cassie, whose voice was great, was somewhat lacking as a dancer. She gave a solo that lasted several minutes but didn’t show off any brilliant dance moves.
Part of the problem with a revival like this one is that we always compare it with something. But what do we compare this revival of A Chorus Line with? How many of us in the audience can actually compare it with the original Broadway production?
Many of us, I imagine, came to the show with the image of Michael Douglas as Zach in mind. For me, Hollywood’s attempt to bring this musical to the screen evokes memories of Michelle Johnston’s (who played Bebe) brief solo at the beginning of the film – now that was dancing!
And what about those who are lucky enough to compare this revival or the film to the original production? Let’s just say that when Uri Klein interviewed Hamlisch for an article that appeared in Haaretz before the production came to town, the latter was firm when asked about the film: “No, no, no! People should not see the film. Tell people not to see it!”
The Musical and the Mirror
The genius behind this musical is its ability to stir empathy in the audience. In the interview with Klein, Hamlisch commented that in creating the musical, “more and more the focus was on how to make the audience relate to the characters.” And with so many different characters to choose from, portraying different age groups, different backgrounds, different stories, there’s gotta be one that rings true with you. One that makes you feel a little like you’re looking in the mirror.
And even though it took nearly hours to get that buzz, the closing number in those last few minutes almost made up for it. Almost. There they were, the final eight who made it, smiling and excited in their top hats and shiny shoes, singing the words to the unforgettable “One”. The singing was uplifting, the stage sparkled with movement and charisma and the brass section – unfortunately hidden behind the scenes along with the rest of the orchestra – soared above all the other instruments. For one brief moment, it touched Broadway.