I saw the A Chorus Line revival on Broadway two years ago. I had expected to hate the show, frankly, having listened to some of the music and dismissed it as “too gay” for my tastes. When I actually sat through the performance, though, I was entranced — the dancing was beautiful, the vocals were thrilling, and the I found myself really connecting with the characters onstage.
The national tour of A Chorus Line, now playing at the Belk Theatre as part of the Broadway Lights Series at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, completely failed to keep the magic going. It was, put simply, quite a big let-down.
Sure, the dancing was still (for the most part) excellent. The show starts with a large group auditioning for a dancing role in the chorus, and they’re gradually cut down to the main characters, so there are several scenes where the performers are expected to slip up a little… They did a good job faking a less-than-great dance performance, and a great job delivering solid ones towards the end as the characters get more confident. The female lead’s dance solo (“The Music and the Mirror”) was especially terrific.
Outside of the dancing, though, the performances were consistently disappointing. There’s not one actor whose vocals were the quality I would expect from a national tour, not one that didn’t lead me to wince at least once. It’s a cliché, but I’ve heard more consistent vocals at karaoke. And some were so especially bad that I’m assuming they were purely hired for their dancing skills. Since I’m such a fan of the music, the tour flat-out lost me a third of the way in. Even the “Montage” songs, which I adore, were mediocre at best (and “Montage Part 4: Gimme the Ball” was absolutely terrible.)
The acting, too, failed to impress me. It was mediocre most of the time, with the characters remembering their lines and giving a decent delivery… But what I loved so much about this show originally is that it went way beyond “decent.” You should be really intrigued by the plight of the characters, but I simply wasn’t.
Cassie’s monologue to the director about needing to find any job she could as a working dancer, even if it meant taking a step back from leading roles and dancing in the chorus, didn’t resonate with me at all. She should come across as desperate, resigned to not being the star that people expect her to be, and almost dejectedly admitting that she’s just not as good as her fans and supporters want her to be. She should be bitter about her unrealistic expectations in Hollywood, and embarrassed at her failure to even make it in the world of commercials. Instead she just seemed whiney, like the director owed her a role and she expected him to capitulate if she stomped her foot and held her breath until he gave in.
My biggest disappointment, from an acting perspective, was Paul. Paul has a monologue that should take your breath away. Normally I wouldn’t give too much away in a review, but I feel like I have to if I want my point to be made. So pardon me for the “spoiler,” but here goes.
You should be holding your breath in shock when Paul tells the story of strange men “playing” with him in a dark movie theatre, a few rows down from his unsuspecting family, and horrified when he dismisses it as unimportant compared to the privilege of going to the movies. You should feel his initial thrill and later disgust at the jobs he took as a teenager. And your heart should break when Paul’s parents discover him performing in drag, and his Puerto Rican father tries to maintain his composure when asking the director to take care of his son.
Unfortunately, for me at least, I just didn’t care about either character. And that’s a shame, because the two of them were a big part of what I found so compelling previously.
The bizarre thing here is that I actually did enjoy myself last night, but that was mostly in spite of the performers rather than because of them. The orchestra was good, and the music brought back a lot of fond memories of the Broadway show and the CD that I’ve listened to since. The monologues were all entertaining, if for no other reason than that I love the story and was reminded of bits that I had forgotten. And the vocals, when at least decent, brought back the memories of better renditions elsewhere. In short, I was reliving previous (better) experiences, and if nothing else, that was worth the price of admission.
If you’ve never seen A Chorus Line, I do encourage you to go, but with some caveats… Focus on the dancing, which is great, and the story, which is wonderful. Imagine how compelling each monologue could be, if performed by actors with a better ability to connect to the role and the audience. Just don’t expect the trademark “singular sensation” from this performance if you’ve seen the show elsewhere, as you may well be disappointed.
Side-note: The folks that run the “Out on the Town” group at Blumenthal did do a terrific job with the pre-show party upstairs. The food was excellent, there was free beer/wine/soda, and some of the cast come out to mingle with guests before getting ready for their performance. If you haven’t attended one of these free receptions for shows in Charlotte, definitely check them out — they’re free, always a good time, and a great way to start off an evening at the theatre.