A Chorus Line

Local Arts Reviews


A Chorus Line: Former Glory

Paramount Theatre,

Through October 8

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

If there is one, singular sensation to be had at Austin Musical Theatre's revival of A Chorus Line, it may be a throbbing headache. Oh, the show boasts wall-to-wall (apron-to-cyclorama? wing-to-wing?) talent working its collective ass off on the stage. Unfortunately, the insanely loud sound design by Duncan Robert Edwards and David F. Shapiro, and the rudimentary -- and blinding -- lighting design, re-created by Tony Tucci from Tharon Musser's original, ultimately cause more pain than the performers can bring pleasure.

As staged by Scott Thompson, this two-hour, intermission-less production is a real museum piece; what you see is exactly what you got 25 years ago. At that time, this story of 17 dancers giving it all they've got during an all-day casting call for a Broadway show truly broke ground. It created a sort of onstage psychological trauma center and support group for a then-unheralded breed of dedicated dancer: the anonymous chorus member who fills in on those big show numbers, gets no acclaim, takes an early bow, and disappears into the shadows of The Great White Way, always dreaming of that big break. However, the 17 hopefuls on whom A Chorus Line focuses tell us much more than we want to know about their personal lives, things that in 1975 might have been shocking (I discovered I'm gay! My body is betraying me with all these newly operable sexual organs! My friends and family don't approve of my dancing!), but now are rather quaint, or just boring.

Thankfully, the really great thing about this musical is that, since it focuses on the dancers, there is plenty of dancing to be done. Thompson's cast of locals and actors imported from New York dances -- and sings and acts -- well, like they've been doing this on Broadway stages all their careers. And because the show takes place at an audition, the characters are not supposed to be equally good at the steps they are asked to master in an instant, a feat that this company executes terrifically, convincing us that these are performers just learning to dance as an ensemble together. Of course, when their characters start spilling their emotional baggage, prompting the show's musical numbers, all the dancers suddenly show just how precise, strong, subtle, and excellent they really are.

The show's romantic subplot tells an even more detailed story about the choreographer running the audition -- Zach, played with warmth by Paul Hadobas -- and his ex, Cassie, an older dancer whose career has stalled. She is back to start all over again and has to struggle against Zach's reluctance to see her as just another chorus girl. But Jane Lanier's Cassie appears too jaded for a comeback. Never smiling, never really seeming to enjoy herself at all -- not even in her solo "The Music and the Mirror," where she dances her irrepressible desire to dance -- this Cassie can do all the steps with ease, but perhaps not with the joy she felt the first time she made it onto a chorus line. And so it is with this production: With its story, that could be happening right now, but with its poor tech and stale writing, it appears to be languishing in its former glory.

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A Chorus Line, Austin Musical Theatre, Scott Thompson, Paul Hadobas, Jane Lanier, Duncan Robert Edwards, David F. Shapiro, Tony Tucci

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