Contrary to the signs gracing our fair city for the past month, I don’t think A Chorus Line is the best musical of all time. I do, however, think it is pretty high up there. If pressed to rank my top five musicals of all time, I don’t think it would make the cut, considering I'm such a loyal disciple to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and messieurs Schoenberg and Boublil. Still, I have been listening to the soundtrack as long as I can remember, and I was eagerly anticipating the show’s arrival in Chicago this spring.
Last night, we went as a family to go see it at the Oriental Theater as a sort of early Mother’s Day celebration, complete with a delicious pre-theater dinner at Trattoria No. 10. I must say, despite my initial enthusiasm, I left the theater with mixed feelings. It’s undeniable that the show has an incredible collection of songs. Even if you aren’t a dancer, there is a song to speak to you at every stage in your life. Who doesn't want to be loved ("At the Ballet")? Who hasn't felt confused about the changes in their life ("Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love")? Who hasn't just wanted a chance ("Music and the Mirror")? I defy you to listen from beginning to end and not be touched at least once.
That said, I was still a little disappointed by this particular production. After years and years of listening to the original Broadway cast, their renditions of the songs are burned into my mind as the definitive versions. I just couldn't wrap my mind around some of the casting choices in the current revival. The actress playing Sheila might have looked the part, and was fully possessive of the requisite sass for the role, but her nasal singing voice ruined "At the Ballet," my favorite number. The actress playing Val was not voluptuous enough to be believable as the proud owner of newly enhanced T&A. Cassie, at least, had a fairly strong voice, and danced her heart out during "Music and the Mirror" but I didn't sense any of the necessary star quality in her to support Zach's disappointment in her willingness to lower herself to dancing in the chorus. The star of the show for me was the actress playing Morales, even though "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love" aren't my favorite songs.
Ultimately, I left the theater with a sad realization: I only like the soundtrack. I'm not sure what I was expecting from a story that covers only an audition, but I found the bare stage a little tedious, despite the creative use of mirrors. I should have anticipated the long intervals of dancers learning and rehearsing choreography, yet I had difficulty maintaining my interest. Paul's lengthy soliloquy regarding his homosexuality was impeccably acted and very moving, but I found myself wondering when it would end so there would be another song.
That's the problem with having inflexible expectations in life -- reality can seldom measure up. Don't get me wrong; A Chorus Line provided a great night of theater. By no means was it a poor production, or unentertaining. Try as it might, it just wasn't the "One" I was looking for, and there's no way it could have been.