Are you a fan of musicals? I have seen about two dozen musicals live (and a bunch more like Hairspray and Les Misérable on-screen). I have a general appreciation for musicals, but occasionally, one comes along about which I just don’t have anything positive to say (which is rare for me!). The musical I’m about to speak ill of is “A Chorus Line.”
I did not know anything about “A Chorus Line” before I went to see it, but as I was sitting in the theater, I posed the question to Google and learned that the musical revolves around a group of individuals auditioning for dancer roles (in the chorus, i.e. in the background) for some production. The musical first debuted on Broadway in 1975. Although my reaction toward the show is overwhelmingly negative, the musical has garnered great critical acclaim and has received Tony awards as well as a Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The show is notable for a few reasons. First, the stage is completely bare. This is not common for musicals, as moving stage pieces like furniture, doors, as well as colorful backdrops are often needed to set the action. For “A Chorus Line,” the backdrop is a mirrored wall (like in a dance studio) or it’s a blank slate (like the back wall of a dance studio). Second, the song “One” from the musical (a song I cannot even remember even though I just saw the production yesterday evening) has made multiple appearances in TV shows (usually as parodies), including Scrubs, The Simpsons, and South Park. Third and finally, the show is striking for its candid portrayal of the challenges of making it as a Broadway dancer.
Without spoilers, the plot of a chorus line is as follows — about two dozen dancers enter an audition room, vying for eight spots; at the end, eight dancers are chosen. Simple! That’s all there is to it action-wise, however the real intrigue of “A Chorus Line” is in the characters. Each of the characters has some sort of backstory that ranges from full on tragic to amusing (in particular, there is the woman who struggles because she did not have “tits or a**”). No one has the perfect life and the man running the audition, Zack, compels each character to tell his/her backstory (in such a way that the audition room begins to resemble a group therapy session).
I was not a fan of “A Chorus Line” for a few reasons:
Many great stories have dynamic characters, i.e., those who undergo some sort of internal change from the beginning to the end of the plot. Additionally, many great stories focus on a few lead characters with a handful of supporting characters. “A Chorus Line” does not do either of the above. There are about 16 (or so?) characters that the plot focuses on and none of them stand out much further from the rest. Additionally, all the characters are static, meaning that they only have “one side” to them and do not undergo any sort of deep emotional change. For example, the woman who struggles with a lack of “tits and a**” simply buys herself surgically enhanced “tits and a**” — that was her greatest change, which was also merely an anecdote told, rather than an actual on-stage transformation (lol). Overall, I just did not find the characters to be likeable, relatable, compelling or all that interesting. (Gosh, that came out sounding harsh!)
I love showtunes, but with “A Chorus Line,” I was surprised to find that none of the songs stood out to me. The overwhelming majority of the pieces are performed as a part of one character’s backstory, which means many solos. However, there are a few company pieces (including “One” which is mentioned earlier). If one is not a fan of the music, loving (or even liking) the musical is proooobably not going to happen.
I didn’t find the humor to be all that funny. Most of the jokes were self-deprecating in nature. For example, the gay character made jokes about discovering that he was a homosexual; the formally thin-as-a-rail girl jested about how she was just so “ugly” and unemployable until she got “tits and a**”; as an aside, one character found humor in the fact that she was abandoned as a kid and then raised by a lovable ex-convict; finally, another character’s jokes revolved around her substance abuse issues, cloyingly overt sexuality, and general negative attitude. Overall, it probably was just not my brand of humor, but every once (in a long “while”) I found something to laugh at — so, that’s a plus!
I don’t think that I was the only one in the theater not lapping it up. For example, even though the show is a good 2.5 hours long; there was no intermission. (Could they have been worried that people would walk out if given the opportunity??) Additionally, at the end, there was not even one encore sequence (which I am not sure I have ever witnessed in my two-dozen-plus trips to the theater).
I have seen others rave about “A Chorus Line” on Facebook, so I am not under the assumption that my negativity is of the majority opinion (I often am oriented toward positivity, so, this post also feels a bit off to me). Overall, “A Chorus Line” clearly just wasn’t for me. Regardless, the performers were amazing — the dance sequences were intense, and the actors were so expressive in their emotions. (A very talented bunch!) If you are not a fan of the campy-jazz-hands sort of musical, maybe you will find something to enjoy in the simple, comedic drama that is “A Chorus Line.”