Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Missed opportunities

Considering how good the basic building blocks (book, music) in A Chorus Line are, I was frustrated by the futility of the new revival. I didn't see the original production, but everybody is in agreement that the "new" one is a slavish carbon copy. It was directed by Bob Avian, who co-choreographed the original; Baayork Lee was the original Connie and is now responsible for "choreography re-staging." Sure, it's very entertaining, and large parts of Marvin Hamlisch's score continue to send shivers down my spine, but what's the point?!?

In a weird way, A Chorus Line anticipated the reality-TV boom, with cast members talking to a director (i.e., the camera) in confessional mode, while going through a casting call (i.e. elimination process). It would have been great to dynamite the show and direct it from that perspective, like some kind of razzle-dazzle Big Brother series, but it would have taken producers with balls.

I am told there are legal reasons that A Chorus Line must be staged the same way it always is. This is the death knell for this show: It'll only endure as a period artifact preserved in formaldehyde. It could easily be staged as a biting commentary on a culture driven by ego that's both self-aggrandizing and self-pitying and by competition, but instead it remains a backstage musical frozen in 1975 amber. While this is fine—it's hard not to like a good backstage musical—it could also be…something else. One day, some British director will mount a production of A Chorus Line that brings it into the 21st century, and then everybody here will wonder why nobody had thought of it before. (Look at what John Doyle did to Sweeney Todd.)

The paucity of imaginative directors on the Broadway and upper-Off stages drives me up the wall. What's up with Scott Elliott, for instance? His Threepenny Opera on Broadway was clueless; now his Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the New Group is a snooze. The play is full of exciting dark corners, especially in the way it deals with the confluence of teaching and domination, and the way it looks at how a charming, charismatic individual can bamboozle students into a miasmic ideology. But Elliott doesn't seem to have any point of view on the story, just as he didn't have any on Threepenny, and he contends himself with letting actors loose, hoping they'll pull through. (And when all else fails: nudity!) Alas, Cynthia Nixon (whose Scottish accent is just bizarre) is out of her depth from the get-go, lacking not only the steely undergirding required to play Miss Brodie, but also the haughty black humor the character displays at times. My neighbor was asleep within 20 minutes; lucky him.

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