The Siegel Column








4 Stars: A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line is one of Broadway's relatively few landmark musicals. It preens with the same sort of historical afterglow as classics such Show Boat, Oklahoma!, Gypsy, and only a handful of others. Its significance only begins with the consummate artistry of original director/choreographer Michael Bennett, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Ed Kleban, and book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. From a commercial point of view, its remarkable fifteen year run that began in 1975 gave its producer, The Public Theater, the financial underpinning that fueled important and challenging theater for thirty years (and counting). From a social point of view, it firmly and finally established on Broadway the gay experience. And from an artistic point of view, it was the first back stage musical that was really and truly about the back stage.

In this, the show's first Broadway revival (as long as there is a Broadway, it will be endlessly revived), A Chorus Line is as much burdened by history as it is exalted. Those of us who carry the memory of having seen the original production come with expectations too prodigious to ever be met. By the same token, those of us who carry the memory of having seen the original production also come with a love in our hearts that is as close as a kiss. The cast may sing, "We need this job," but the audience is silently singing, "We need this show." So even as this first revival can only disappoint us, it can (and does) also bring us joy. In other words, for all its faults, we're thrilled that A Chorus Line has come home.

What works? You can't beat that score. Hamlisch's music throbs with theatrical intensity. Kleban's lyrics turn from witty to winsome and from pithy to poignant. Bennett's conception of the show, all these years later, is still breathtaking in its combination of simplicity and audacity. Of course, what the show had in 1975 were dancers who fundamentally embodied their roles; many of them were playing their own life stories. There is a tendency to forget, however, that that was not the case during most of the fifteen years the show was on Broadway when a parade of replacements – more gypsies – played these same roles eight times a week. Now, in the revival, the new cast has the unenviable job of trying to equal, if not outshine, the burnished reputations of history. Good luck. The kind thing to do, though, is to look at these performances in the context of the show, not in the context of "are they as good as ..."

Frankly, many of the featured performers are disappointing, among them Deidre Goodwin (Sheila) is all sass but without the heart underneath. Jessica Lee Goldyn (Val) is not up to the vocal demands of "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three." Most disappointing is Natalie Cortez (Morales) who has two of the show's most famous numbers, "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love," and doesn't truly land either of them. On the other side of the ledger, Jeffrey Schecter is winning when he sings and dances "I Can Do That." Tony Yazbeck (Al) displays a terrific voice in "Sing." Ken Alan (Bobby) has presence to spare. So does Michael Berresse (Zach) who holds the stage with a pent-up rage that both drives his pivotal character and creates the heightened atmosphere needed for this play to exist. Charlotte d'Amboise, in the heartbreaking role of Cassie, acts her role to the hilt; she defines it on her own terms and makes it work. Simply put, the cast is spiky; given the talent pool in this town, it should have been more uniformly fantastic.

A Chorus Line's current creators, virtually all of whom have a relationship to the original production, have painstakingly tried to remain faithful to Michael Bennett's vision of the show. To the extent that this musical is so fundamentally dependent upon the talents of all of those kids on "the line," casting is the one place they might have done better. That said, from the moment the show begins – from those first emblematic notes that trumpet the start of this classic Broadway musical – you can feel the excitement in the house. That excitement may flag from time to time during the show, particularly during some solo numbers, but it just as readily regains its strength when the company does set pieces like "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love," and, of course, "One."

This production will not last fifteen years. But it will run and it will win new converts, especially among those who never saw the original cast. For our part, we're glad its back. A new generation deserves to see it.

A Chorus Line at Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue). Tickets at Telecharge.com.

4 ½ Stars: Private Fears in Public Places at the New York Film Festival

Privte Fears in Public Places
Lambert Wilson as Dan and Isabelle Carr้ as Gaelle in Private Fears in Public Places
It's been a very long time since we've seen a straight play adapted to the screen with the cinematic flair that Alain Resnais has brought to Alan Ayckbourn's Private Fears in Public Places. This French film is screening tonight and tomorrow at the New York Film Festival and those who have tickets to see it can count themselves extremely lucky because, as of this writing, the movie does not yet have American distribution.

If the name Alain Resnais strikes you as familiar, well, it should. This iconoclastic French filmmaker goes back as far as 1955 when he made Night and Fog. His early reputation was further enhanced by such groundbreaking films as Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Resnais has created a world of cinema since, culminating in this uncompromisingly comic look at loneliness. The French filmmaker, with the help of well-known French playwright/director Jean-Michel Ribes, who adapted Ayckbourn's very English play into his own language, takes the six unhappy characters of this piece and weaves their tales together with tender understanding as he explores their insecurities, complexities, and their contradictions. The transposition of Ayckbourn's English theatrical piece into French cinema is flawless; if you didn't know the playwright's work, you would never guess its English source – except for the fact that all the characters drink tea! The play is further protected and enhanced by a cast that includes French stars who also have extensive theater credits. Among them are Lambert Wilson, Pierre Arditi, Isabelle Carré, André Dussollier, and Sabine Azéma.

We meet two lovers at the end of their relationship, a brother and a sister each searching for love in all the wrong places, a bartender living with guilt, and a bible-toting prude with a secret. Not all of these characters meet during the course of the film, but their actions and reactions each have consequences on the others in the movie. Meanwhile, Resnais ties his characters together (literally) in an endless blizzard of emotional turmoil. What we see is the visual manifestation of their cold and chilly lives. And in one scene near the end of the film, Resnais pays off his visual motif with stunning boldness as two bereft souls sit together in a room, snow enshrouding them. Theater and film come together in elegant artistry in this purposefully sad, exceptional comedy.

For location and ticket information, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center website.


Photo: Canal Plus


Barbara and Scott Siegel