by Brian Scott Lipton
Fifty years ago, The Beatles asked us if we wanted a revolution. In 1975, Michael Bennett delivered one to musical theater fans in the form of “A Chorus Line,” a seamless mixture of extraordinarily inventive dance, toe-tapping, brilliantly written songs (by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban) and a revelatory book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, based in large part on the true-life stories of the actors on the stage (first at the Public Theater and then the Shubert) who bared all about their struggles to make it, survive and, occasionally even thrive in show business.
Well, here’s what I have to say having witnessed City Center’s gala production of this landmark musical, its first theatrical offering of its 75th season: Viva La Revolucion! Not only does this singularly sensational material still thrill audiences – and tug at their heartstrings – but this faithful restaging by the keepers of the show’s flame, original co-choreographer Bob Avian and original cast member Baayork Lee – proves to be as golden as the still-legendary Theoni V. Aldredge costumes the cast dons for the finale.
As was always true, there are mirrors aplenty on that stage, and, as for smoke, there’s definitely heat between the show’s hard-driving director Zach (a superb Tony Yazbeck, echoing Bennett in look and feel) and his former love, Cassie (Robin Hurder), a down-on-her-luck demi-star so desperate for work she’s more than willing to return to the chorus. The pair’s dramatic scenes sizzle, and Hurder proves to be one of the most powerful women to tackle this difficult role, making a true tour de force out of her solo “The Music and the Mirror.”
Of course, Cassie’s backstory is just one of many we hear throughout the intermission-less two-hour evening, both spoken and sung, including those from former drag queen Paul (a touching Eddie Guitterez), the spunky Diana Morales (a wonderful Tara Kostmayer, making a whole lot of something out of “Nothing), the sassy Val (a delicious Elaine J. Marcos, milking “Dance Ten, Looks Three” for all its worth), the acerbic Sheila (the statuesque, sexy and sardonic Leigh Zimmerman), the plucky Mike (an adorable Tommy Bracco) and the handsome less-than-happy Bobby (the excellent Jay Armstrong Johnson) to name a few.
Indeed, casting is the true key to the success of any production of this show, and there are also strong contributions by the exuberant Anthony Wayne as Richie; the gorgeous-voiced Sara Esty as Maggie, and the hilarious Melanie Moore as Judy. A few of the other performers could make stronger impressions, but there are no really weak links in this chain.
In case you’re wondering, the orchestra (here led by Patrick Vacariello) is, unlike Encores, not on the stage; that’s an honor reserved strictly for the men and women of the line. I could watch them every night.
Photos: Joan Marcus
A Chorus Line continues at New York City Center (131 West 55th Street. 212-247-0430) through Sunday, November 18.