Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kelban
Direction and Choreography Re-Staged by Baayork Lee
February 26, 2013 at 8:00 P.M.
A Chorus Line" produced by American Theatre International, LLC., is the current offering in the Broadway series at Ruth Eckerd Hall, through February 27th.
I will never forget seeing "A Chorus Line", the first week it opened on Broadway in 1975. It was the most impressive musical/comedy/drama I had ever seen! It had everything you could ever dream about seeing in a Broadway musical and more. It gave audiences a sneak-peek into a Broadway musical audition. And it was risqué for the times, since it included adult themes and language that had not been displayed in a Broadway musical before. The dialogue delved deep into the private personalities of the cast, revealing issues that were in the 1970's,.. taboo.
And the dancing and the music was sensational!
I immediately bought the cast album and vocal selections. For years I continued talking about the show and singing the songs and reciting, ala the choreographer, "Step, Kick, Kick, Leap, Kick, Touch, again!" And yelling out, the legendary dancer and instructor Luigi's famous line, "Ah, Fi, Six, Seven, Eight!"
"A Chorus Line" became the longest running musical in Broadway history until "Cats".
I remember being overwhelmed by the magnificent singing, acting, and dancing from the original "triple threat", Broadway cast, including Donna McKechnie, Priscilla Lopez, and Sammy Williams. This was truly an ensemble show, yet there were several "shining star" moments. I went back at least a half dozen times over the 15 years it was on Broadway and since have seen numerous productions in regional theatres across the country. And I saw the film adaptation several times as well.
The story take place in the 1970's and revolves around a "chance of a lifetime", for 17 hopeful dancers, auditioning for a new Broadway musical. The audition process reveals individual personalities, hopes, fears, and ambitions. Some stories are humorous, sardonic, or touching. They all however, share a common bond, a great passion to dance.
The minimalistic set, is an adaptation of the original Broadway design, a black box, basically empty stage with floor to ceiling mirrors, (that pivot to a flashy backdrop for the finale). The costumes, (recreated from the original), are basic casual clothes or dancewear until the glitzy finale.
The show opens without an overture, but with a simple piano melody. Then, the audition begins.
The new National Tour at Ruth Eckerd Hall, disturbingly fails to get 'technically", off the ground. A great deal was due to sound issues, a surprisingly alarming factor, considering the near perfect acoustics of Ruth Eckerd Hall. I believe this to be a design and engineering issue and has nothing to do with the venue.
When the orchestra kicks in after the simplistic piano opening, and the dancing is in high gear, it should be explosive. The dancers were working hard and dancing well, but the orchestra could hardly be heard. The impact of "I Hope I Get It!", was lost and it was to no fault of the singer/dancers. This sound issue took the spark and punch, out of the opening. Contrary to the soft sound of the orchestra during the dances, the orchestra was too loud for most of the vocals, drowning out the soloists. The prologue for "What I Did For Love", was so muddy that it was inaudible. Other dialogue and clever lyrics were difficult to understand throughout the performance, due to sound issues.
The lighting was also challenging. It was dark onstage a great deal of the time. So dark, that there were times that I couldn't distinguish who was singing solo and I lost focus.
Technical issues aside, poor diction and some weak singing voices did not help hearing the show. There was little bottom to the singing voices, across the boards. Most of the dialogue was rushed and when combined with a soft sound design, resulted in many of the laughs being lost.
In addition, the book and premise of "A Chorus Line" does not withstand the test of time. With all of the televised celebrity documentaries, talent competitions and reality shows, giving us an inside look at dance and show business in general, the story of "A Chorus Line" is no longer innovative or as interesting and compelling as it was in 1975. Then, it was "the only kid on the block!"