“A Chorus Line” – Broadway Across America – Arizona

This review aired on KBAQ September 4, 2008

Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

I’ll always remember the most electrifying theater performance I ever attended. It was in 1975 when I saw the original “A Chorus Line.” From the moment the show began until the end two exhausting hours later, “A Chorus Line” was created by and told the lives and stories of how 17 performers became actors. The actors were these people. I’ll never forget it.

To open the new ASU Gammage series this week, comes the show’s recent Broadway revival. It re-creates this masterpiece perfectly. Every step and nuance is identical to the late Michael Bennett’s original staging.

But this new production lacks the original’s fire. These actors never become these characters. They re-tell the stories flawlessly, they dance the steps artfully, and they sing the Marvin Hamlisch score impeccably but the tales are never heartfelt or real, because they are about someone else’s life.

“A Chorus Line” remains one of the all-time best American musicals. But this revival lacks the sparkle, the dazzle, the spit, and the precision that only those original performers could ever display.

And there’s a myriad of annoying flaws here. Robin Wagner’s original sets are copies in their stark simplicity. There’s a solid black wall at the back in front of which these performers tell their stories. But the black background is just part of a triangle that turns at appropriate places to become mirrors, and finally, a flashy Art Deco set for the lavish finale. But the mirrors are filthy and need cleaning. There’s a dreadful sound system that over amplifies the orchestra so it overshadows the actors and dialogue can’t be understood. Shoddy spotlights fail to hit intended performers. Finally, there’s an inept performer who somehow made it into this revival.

Nikki Snelson’s dreadful Cassie is awful. Not only can Snelson not sing, her dancing turns the show’s solo star number, “The Music and the Mirror,” into a disappointing showcase that never comes close to stopping the show, as it must.

Other performers are solid. Kevin Santos’ Paul tells a touching story about his life as a drag show star. Gabrielle Ruiz turns Diana into a caring young Hispanic who can feel what her teachers can’t see. Her “What I Did for Love” is this staging’s finest musical moment. The rest of the cast never, for even a moment, make us believe they are these characters.

You will probably never see as faithful a re-creation of “A Chorus Line” but this revival misses the original’s electrifying brilliance. This “A Chorus Line” plays through Sunday, September 7. For tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 480-784-4444 or go online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C