Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"A Chorus Line," revived - Dance: five; Voice: yikes

It’s a good thing “A Chorus Line” isn’t a musical about auditioning triple-threat leads for a Broadway show. If it were, nobody in the 2006 revival cast would make it past the first round.

Now three months into its run, the highly publicized revival of Michael Bennett’s “A Chorus Line” is playing at the Schoenfeld Theater under direction of Bob Avian, co-choreographer of the original.

Set in 1975, the show centers on 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway ensemble. Each performer has a story to tell – a true-life story, drawn from Bennett’s recorded interviews with professional dancers. The musical unfolds as the onstage choreographer calls on the dancers, one by one, to explain why they want to dance.

Widely criticized as being too reverential toward the original, this revival has problems even before casting issues enter the mix. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book relies on homosexuality, cross-dressing and plastic surgery for dramatic color; but what was taboo in the 1970s carries little shock value in the new millennium. As a result, the cast must work harder to engage and sustain the audience’s interest.

The ensemble opener, “I Hope I Get It,” showcased the strongest singing and dancing of the night. Taken together, the singers sounded great. But when it came time for solos, most performers favored a pinched, nasal sound, closer to shouting than singing. Admittedly, this is the (unfortunate) norm on Broadway – but even by those standards, the cast left much to be desired.

This production’s biggest Broadway name, Charlotte d’Amboise, was also its biggest disappointment. As Cassie, the Tony-nominated actress incorporated nearly every cliché of musical theater vocalism – breathless talk-singing, overdone consonants – into her performance, which teetered perilously on the edge of parody.

Paired with uninspired choreography by original-cast alum Baayork Lee, this revival never came to life. Song after low-energy song fell short of its showstopper potential.

As Bobby and Sheila, Ken Alan and Deidre Goodwin rescued the evening with convincingly drawn characters. Although these parts aren’t much of a stretch for Broadway actors, Alan and Goodwin’s unaffected performances stood out.

It defies logic that the best part of a musical about dancers should be the acting, but such was the case at Wednesday’s performance.

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