The original Broadway production of A Chorus Line ran for 6,137 performances over a 15-year run. It held the record for longest running Broadway musical until being unseated by Cats in 1997 (A Chorus Line still holds the record for U.S.-produced Broadway musicals). The book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante incorporated the backstories of real chorus dancers (eight of whom appeared in the original cast), collected through dancer workshops which Michael Bennett eventually took over for this project. The Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban score includes a couple of iconic songs ("One," "What I Did For Love") and was part of the show's Tony Award nine-win success in in 1976 (Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Choreography, Best Lighting, and acting awards for Donna McKechnie, Sammy Williams, Kelly Bishop). The show also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Though A Chorus Line is a show specifically about dancers, just about anyone can identify with many of the stories told and feelings expressed by the characters. The show is at times touching, funny and sad. With minimal sets, props and costumes, and no intermission, the audience is placed in the audition studio as individual dancers are put in the spotlight to share their fears, insecurities and dreams. And they dance.
After a 2006 Broadway revival (directed by original co-choreographer Bob Avian, and with restaged choreography by original cast member Baayork Lee), a new national touring production began in 2008 in Denver. Both the revival and the tour are fashioned closely after the original production, crediting original choreographer/director Michael Bennett, scenic designer Robin Wagner, costume designer Tharon Musser and orchestrators Jonathan Tunick, Bill Byers and Hershy Kay. John C. O'Neill is music director for the tour.
With few exceptions, the characters is A Chorus Line represent performers on their way up in their careers. Some are just starting; others have been climbing for some time. Two exceptions are Zach (Sebastian La Cause), who is the director/choreographer running the audition; his assistant Larry (Brandon Tyler); and Cassie (Robyn Hurder), who is auditioning but is a veteran - and an ex-girlfriend of Zach's. It's always great to see young performers playing the chorus roles; though each may have a different backstory, their energy, optimism and history of hard work bolster their performances.
As a whole, the touring production is a success. There are a few scenes that drag a bit - I'm not sure if it's the directing, or the change in pace from more energy-filled scenes (and maybe exacerbated by a fidgeting audience over the 2-hour+ sitting) - but the cast is consistently in character throughout, and perform well. La Cause is a strong Zach: assertive and in-charge, but also empathetic and caring about his auditionees. As staged, he is often just a voice from the back of the theatre. Hurder does a good job in depicting a dancer who is on the far side of her career peak; she just wants to dance, and, even though she is willing to take a chorus job, there are difficulties in doing that. There is no room for individuality on the chorus line; homogony is the goal.
There are no real weak spots in this cast, and the dance in particular is very strong. Highlights are Kevin Santos as Paul, who has the most emotional an poignant story. Santos does a great job showing the character's reluctance to reveal what has taken place in his past. Gabrielle Ruiz is feisty and sassy as Diana Morales; she carries the big song, "What I Did For Love," with honesty. Shannon Lewis carries herself very well as sarcastic, attention-grabbing Sheila. Clyde Alves as Mike is a ball of fire on "I Can Do That" and Mindy Dougherty as Val is sparkling on "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three." Jessica Latshaw and Colt Prattes as married couple Kristine and Al work well together, especially on "Sing."
A Chorus Line is a classic musical, and this touring production does it justice. In Pittsburgh at Heinz Hall through April 12, the tour continues through July 2009. Visit www.achorusline.com for more information.