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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Gerald Schoenfeld, New York

By Jeremy Gerard

  Charlotte d'Amboise in A Chorus Line

Leaving the Schoenfeld Theatre after seeing the new revival of A Chorus Line, my 17-year-old daughter turned to me and said, "Dad, wasn't that pretty cheesy?" I could feel my heart break, not so much because of Emily's opinion concerning one of the greatest shows ever to find life on Broadway, but because she was right. The revival proudly boasts many elements replicated from the original, but much the same could be said for the $10 Louis Vuitton bags being hawked on Fifth Avenue. Neither holds up under even cursory inspection. A Chorus Line isn't cheesy. This Chorus Line is cheesy.

Five years ago, when some people, not me, were hailing The Producers as the new Now and Forever musical, I found solace in a lame little loser of a show called A Class Act, about the life of songsmith Ed Kleban. In my New York magazine column, I compared the two shows and explained why my Tony vote was going to Class Act:

"A Class Act moved me -- actually to tears at one point. It pays homage to a life devoted to musicals that, with one quite spectacular exception, didn't work out as planned. The tear-inducing scene comes in the middle of Act II. After years spent writing songs that many admired but no one produced, Kleban auditions for the director and choreographer Michael Bennett, who's impressed enough to hire him to write the words for his new show about Broadway dancers. The music is to be composed by Marvin Hamlisch, at the time already in possession of three Oscars for his film scores. Kleban reluctantly agrees and, proposing their first song, explains to Hamlisch that what the dancers tend to have in common is miserable childhoods occasionally palliated ‘at the ballet.' Hamlisch breaks into an upbeat soft-shoe, scatting nonsense syllables and flashily ending with at the ballet as if he were Al Jolson and every word were punctuated with exclamation points. It's so completely wrong you have to laugh as Kleban says, ‘What I got here is foster homes, orphanages, incest . . .' while Hamlisch continues in his smiley-faced way. ‘Think philandering fathers, frustrated mothers . . . alcoholic frustrated mothers . . .' Kleban says, growing desperate. Finally, Hamlisch returns to earth, humming the first bars of that haunting trio from A Chorus Line, ‘At the Ballet,' and you have a sense of history being made. Heart has triumphed over razzle-dazzle. And maybe because you know that Kleban would never see another show of his produced before dying of cancer in 1987, during the twelfth year of A Chorus Line's astonishing fifteen-year run, A Class Act -- imperfect and wobbly-kneed though it most certainly is -- moves you."

The saddest thing about this unmoving, vacuous revival is the way it drives home how much was lost when Michael Bennett died of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1987. I think the new Chorus Line would make him crazy.

It's no accident that Bennett's legacy as a director-choreographer rests largely on a show about the casting of a Broadway musical. He was fanatical about casting, and one of the reasons A Chorus Line ran as long as it did is because he was also fanatical about maintaining replacements at the level of the original performers. Bob Avian, Bennett's original co-choreographer, is the director of the revival, and while I'm confident he knows A Chorus Line as well as it is possible to know, the casting is the second-weakest aspect of the production.

Charlotte d'Amboise, is one of Broadway's most beloved and skilled singer-dancers, but she lacks any emotional ballast as Cassie, and so the show's dance centerpiece, Cassie's "The Music and the Mirror," comes off as an etude, ably but unaffectingly performed at a recital by an A- student. Deidre Goo


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