A Chorus Line

Paper Mill Playhouse - New Jersey
September 7, 2001
Review by John Kenrick

Complex as love is, one fact is simple – everything else fades when the real thing shows up.

At a time when the Broadway musical scene is dominated by recycled cartoons, pseudo-operas and comic pastiches, seeing A Chorus Line in all its glory at The Paper Mill Playhouse is a revelation. This masterwork does not merely entertain. It takes you on an emotional roller coaster of joy, despair, and triumph, finally affirming that, win or lose, life goes on.

Contact? Fosse? The Producers? Oh please. One look at A Chorus Line, and your perspective on these so-called musicals is altered forever. There is nothing like the real thing. Once again, we are reminded that truly great musicals must have brains, heart and courage. More than a quarter century after its premiere, A Chorus Line remains one of the ultimate expressions of what the musical theater can be.

The book by Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood remains a creative marvel, bringing together twenty six characters in one powerful stream of consciousness. Marvin Hamlisch's melodies deftly mix showbiz razzmatazz with hints of mid-70's pop, and Edward Kleban's lyrics have lost none of their eloquence. The original orchestrations by Bill Byers, Hershey Kay and Jonathan Tunick may sound a bit dated at times, but they are as satisfying to the ear as the voice of an old friend. Would that I had aged half as well as this material has!

Baayork Lee, who played Connie ("4 Foot 10!") in the original production, has done more than just re-create Michael Bennett and Bob Avian's definitive staging. She has given this revival the electricity of a new work. While there are no stars in the cast, there is plenty of star quality. Lee wisely lets this troupe find their own fresh connection to characters who must dance off their butts and bear their souls to win jobs in a Broadway chorus.

This ensemble gels beautifully. Like Cassie says, they're all special, but there are some standouts. Kim Shriver scores as the formidable Sheila, Caitlin Carter is a touching Cassie, and Mark Bove is perfect as Zach, the often hateful director. Cindy Marchionda stops the show with Diana's "What I Did for Love," as does Nadine Isenegger with Val's delicious "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three."

At one point, the music, dance and razzle dazzle stop. On a dark stage in a solo spotlight, the soft-spoken Paul exposes his painful past in a heart rending monologue. It is one of the most challenging moments the musical theater has ever offered to an actor, and Luis Villabonblew the opening night audience away with it. This is a searing, breakout performance that literally took my breath away.

By the by, while all of Bennett & Avian's choreography looks as glorious as ever, "One" remains the most moving, heart-pounding finale the musical theater has ever known. Seeing it again didn't just take me back – it sent me soaring.

Once again, Paper Mill Playhouse has confirmed its place as a musical theater-lover's heaven on earth. So get on out to Millburn for this first-class revival of A Chorus Line – and remind yourself what the real thing feels like

This limited run closed on October 14, 2001.

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