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New York City Center's Annual Gala Presentation of "A Chorus Line"
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New York City Center's Annual Gala Presentation of "A Chorus Line"

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New York City Center
Annual Gala Presentation
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A Chorus Line

Conceived and Originally Directed and
Choreographed by Michael Bennett

Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Originally Co-Choreographed by Bob Avian

Starring:
A Company of 28 Dancers/Actors/Singers

At:
New York City Center

Directed by Bob Avian
Choreography: Baayork Lee
Artistic Consultant: Jack Viertel
Scenic Design: Robin Wagner
Costume Design: Theoni V. Aldredge
Lighting Design: Tharon Musser
Lighting Adapted by Ken Billington
Sound Design: Kai Harada
Music Coordinator: Patrick Vaccariello
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick,
Bill Byers, & Hershy Kay
Music Director: Patrick Vaccariello
Casting: Jay Binder, CSA/Justin Bohon, CSA
Production Stage Manager: Gregory R. Covert
Executive Producer: John Breglio
Artistic Consultant: Jack Viertel

Press: Joe Guttridge, Dir. Of Communications

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 18, 2018 Matinee


It was so exciting to even anticipate this revisit with the 1975 A Chorus Line, staged for New York City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season. My last viewing of this show was in 2007 at the Schoenfeld. This is a concept musical, with a score by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. The long-running Broadway show, originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, is directed for this special run by Bob Avian and choreographed by Baayork Lee. In the original 1975 season, Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre, then on Broadway at the Shubert, according to NY City Center notes, the Broadway box office had been in dire trouble, compared to our current Broadway packed houses. Lo and behold, this show ran for 16 years and won the Best Musical Tony and a Pulitzer. Times Square was subsequently re-envisioned, rebuilt, and refreshed.

This show, with a cast of 26 characters and two swings, tells the story of impassioned young actors/dancers/singers at an audition for a Broadway chorus line. Scenery is almost non-existent, as the stage remains appropriately bare. It seemed like an advanced modern jazz class, large dance studio, mirrors, a teacher shouting, "From the top, 5, 6, 7, 8…", but this was something big. This tryout was for Broadway, and it soon became clear that these dancers were in sync, professional, and auditioning for a show. They were great dancers, had spunk, were eclectic in size, ethnicity, sophistication, confidence, and body language; that is, when they were not dancing. When they danced in unison, they reminded me of The Rockettes at Radio City, a line dance of precision, perfection, and pizzazz. But, verve soon turned to vulnerability, and it was clear that only eight dancers would be chosen of about seventeen.

What was also clear was my memory of the original show, with my yearning for more of the main theme song and "dressed-up dancing". I remember being disappointed that there were not at least fifteen minutes of “One”, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban's explosive theme song that signifies this show in all its incarnations. However, there are other memorable songs, sung in the 70's audition clothes (that re-create the 1975 costumes of the original show that ran straight through 1990). In fact, there were even two actors in this current special event that this page has reviewed in recent years (Tony Yazbeck as Zach, the Director, and Jay Armstrong Johnson as Bobby; both actors had performed together in On the Town.)

Zach, who chooses (with Larry, his assistant) eight actor/dancer/singers, is the booming voice from the rear or the stern voice up front, who pries the secrets and souls of these seventeen "tryouts" in order to test their personalities and measure the thickness of their skin. I assume that in the 70's, directors used such devices to form the cohesion of the Broadway ensembles. It is unimaginable that such a device would even last a moment in today's culture. Some of these characters balked at the public unpeeling of their lives and some relished the spotlight. One who balked was Cassie (Robyn Hurder), who had once lived with Zach, as it was revealed, and another was Sheila (Leigh Zimmerman), who was told, "take down your attitude". Still another, Paul (Eddie Gutierrez), was pulled aside to reveal his sad story in private, while Diana (Tara Kostmayer) was thrilled to talk of her Puerto Rican background.

Greg (Denis Lambert) was hilarious in his Brooklyn shtick, while Connie (Jolina Javier) came across as adorable, although not your typical chorus girl. Another character that grew onstage was Val (J. Elaine Marcos), who belted out a most disarming and delicious rendition of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”, about changing her looks and job prospects with strategic plastic surgery, butt and breasts. Kristine (Kate Bailey) and Mark (David Grindrod) were married, and only one could sing. So, could one of the pair be chosen? And on and on, the tension grew, but at a slow pace, as there were other tensions brewing, such as the confrontations with Sheila and the sometimes lengthy revelations, via Zach's compulsive questions.

One of the less "unpeeled" characters was Larry (Ryan Steele), Zach's assistant, who was a fantastic dancer with up-front dance modeling, that drove the ensemble routines. He was taut, precise, and powerful. In fact, I wished the dance routines (originally choreographed by Michael Bennett and Bob Avian) could have had more stage time. Cassie's big dance (“The Music and the Mirror”) in a striking red dress was interesting and indicative of her deep desire to dance once again, if necessary, in an ensemble, as the good roles had long eluded her. She had to win over Zach's recycled resentment to have her way. In fact, each character tried to have his/her way to join this show, but, as previously noted, only eight would be chosen, and the suspense was maintained through this two-hour production.

The Hamlisch-Kleban songs were and are still gorgeous. Many still replay in my mind, such as “I Hope I Get It” (pulsating, feverish), “At the Ballet” (about how beautiful everything is at the ballet, and it certainly is), Val's big body number, “What I Did for Love” (which became a huge hit and was recorded and performed by many), and, of course, “One”, which bounces in my mind like a "broken record" (Remember those?). Patrick Vaccariello's musical direction and conducting of Jonathan Tunick, Bill Byers, and Hershy Kay's orchestrations bring us back to 1975 like a time machine, when this show was a blockbuster. Please, is there a producer who would bring this back again, long-term on a big Broadway stage?

The roles in this production are the roles of the original production, but, unlike most shows, those roles (and thus, that book) were written by the 1975 actors telling their own unique stories to Michael Bennett. Today's production revives those stories on new actors, and some, more than others, pull off the personas. Robin Wagner's mirrored sets appeared and disappeared on cue for multiple figured effects, especially in Cassie's dance, and Tharon Musser's lighting was critical to the show's momentum. When characters thought "out loud", like in the song, “I Can Do That”, the lights were dark and spotlights were active, while an ensemble number that was performed, like “One”, shone in all its gold, glitter, and glamour. Sound design was perfect, as so many productions today are excessively loud. I could hear every word, and none were echoing or tinny. Sound design happens to be an underappreciated quality. Kudos to all, and kudos to New York City Center in its 75th Anniversary Season.



The Cast, NY City Center's "A Chorus Line"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus



Robyn Hurder as Cassie in
NY City Center's "A Chorus Line"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus



Tony Yazbeck as Zach in
NY City Center's "A Chorus Line"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus



The Cast, NY City Center's "A Chorus Line"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus


For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net