The City Center production of A Chorus Line brings with it a puzzling conundrum. But we’ll get to that. The salient point is that, yes, you should if at all possible see this Chorus Line before it ends its seven-performance run on Sunday. And we have an immediate answer to the question of whether it is Broadway-caliber and transfer-worthy: Yes, yes, 6,137 times yes — 6,137 being the length of the original Broadway run.
The show opened in the summer of 1975 and lasted into the spring of 1990, and throughout the run it remained what you might call—and what they called—“a singular sensation.” Most of the creative team is long gone, namely director-choreographer-conceiver Michael Bennett, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Edward Kleban, and librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. The only survivor is Bennett’s co-choreographer Bob Avian, who has long been staging productions of the signature work. He is onboard as director, paired with choreographer Baayork Lee, who created the role of “4-foot-10” Connie while serving as dance captain, and who, like Avian, has spent the intervening 40 years meticulously recreating what Bennett wrought.
A Chorus Line, done right, is an altogether marvelous combination of words, music, and movement. And at City Center it is done right and works like gangbusters (although I can’t rightly recall the last time I saw a gangbuster work). Avian and Lee have captured the essence of Bennett, while the designs from the original team of Robin Wagner, Theoni V. Aldredge, and Tharon Musser (whose lighting has been adapted by Ken Billington) demonstrate how keenly conceived they were. The red-hot band is in the fine hands of Patrick Vaccariello, playing the masterful charts contributed by a team of seven orchestrators.
From that initial vamp, with the Bennett-like character counting out the 5-6-7-8, the show throttles along. The songs snowball, demonstrating more impact as the evening proceeds. Bennett’s more or less revolutionary extended sequences—the opening audition (built around “I Hope I Get It” and “I Really Need This Job”); the pre-teen “At the Ballet” sequence; and the adolescent “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” number—maintain their exquisite impact, and how.
The two critical sequences that move the latter half of the show forward have always been somewhat dependent on the power of the performers on hand. In this case, Eddie Gutierrez as Paul (with his drag club monologue) and Robyn Hurder as Cassie (with her “The Music and the Mirror”) are excellent, with both of these scenes enhanced by Tony Yazbeck as one of the best Zachs (i.e., Michael Bennetts) we’ve seen. Also standing out are Jay Armstrong Jones as Bobby; Tara Kostmayer as Diana (spotlighted in two numbers, “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”); Anthony Wayne as “gimme the ball” Richie; and Lee Zimmerman as Sheila, the caustic adult in the room.
The conundrum I am puzzling over, though, goes back to the power of this musical. The original production was unforgettable at the Public and then the Shubert for 15 years; and this City Center production is extremely good (and should it transfer with a full rehearsal period will be measurably stronger). But the 2006 Broadway revival of the show, which arrived with the highest of expectations, turned out to be relatively sparkless. That is, you could see why the show was an all-time classic, and the revival did enjoy a substantial run and tour; but it lacked much of the onstage passion we had seen in the original. This with Mr. Avian, Ms. Lee, Mr. Vaccariello and the original designs on hand. Had the intervening years tamed down A Chorus Line?
Not so, based on what we see at City Center. The excitement is back in A Chorus Line, and it is not to be missed.
A Chorus Line opened November 14, 2018, at City Center and runs through November 18. Tickets and information: nycitycenter. org