By Austin Yang
I once compared attending an Encores! show to a museum excursion. A diverting glance at a great historic beast resurrected through smoke and mirrors.
City Center’s recent production of A Chorus Line is a strong exception to this rule. There is nothing to be resurrected here, because Michael Bennett’s terpsichorean titan is simply so far from dead. It teems with life, and its magnetism is timeless and universal.
And make no mistake: This version of A Chorus Line at Encores! is no wax museum. City Center has assembled a brilliant cast and creative team that have, in the manner of the best revivals, preserved the quintessence of the originals, and in doing so, giving them new life. Under the auspices of director Bob Avian and choreographer Baayork Lee, who have borne the cross of quality control for every major production since the original, Bennett’s vision of the show shines through.
However, even revolutions aren’t what render a show timeless, especially considering the rich history surrounding the provenance and success of A Chorus Line. And for all the innovation and progressiveness of its structure and narrative, it’s truly less the “tell” and more the “show” of A Chorus Line that gives it its universal appeal. The score is anthem after anthem, hit after hit that deliver not just as earworms, but also for the immense heart the songs encapsulate. And of course, they are punctuated by some of the most iconic and complex dancing seen on a Broadway stage, which the talented cast of triple threats carry almost seamlessly. At the City Center performances, no number failed to stop the show and bring nostalgic audiences to abundant tears and laughter.
A credit, of course, to the performers. For all they’re worth, some productions of A Chorus Line fail to take risks and license when it comes to casting, and this is reflected in subsequent performances, which is what sometimes creates “wax museum” revivals. City Center’s production has no such misgivings, and I’m pleased to see a diverse, inclusive cast whose members in turn find new ways to color in their roles, without changing anything inherent to them.
A Chorus Line’s message is, after all, that these hard-driving, hardworking ensemble members are all stars. Memorable performances from the evening include but are not limited to the following: Robyn Hurder, whose Cassie is more overtly desperate, and in her dance and dialogue truly beg for the job. Tony Yazbeck, with versatile oral interpretation skills particularly suited to the god-mic, is as three-dimensional as can be with a character like Zach. I felt that Tara Kostmeyer’s Diana sang her “Nothing” and the anthemic “What I Did For Love” a little too smoothly, in a somewhat concert fashion.
And of course, what tied it all together was the design. Theoni Aldrege’s costumes remain iconic, and Robin Wagner’s set coupled with Tharon Musser’s lighting creates a bewitching, almost cinematic effect.
A Chorus Line – Conceived by Michael Bennett, Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Ed Kleban
Director: Bob Avian, Choregrapher | Baayork Lee
WITH: Jay Armstrong Johnson, Kate Bailey, Callan Bergmann, Natalie Bourgeois, Tommy Bracco, Wesley Ian Cappiello, Max Clayton, Aaron Patrick Craven, Francine Espiritu, Sara Esty, Joseph Fierberg, Emily Franch, David Grindrod, Eddie Gutierrez, Robyn Hurder, Jolina Javier, Tara Kostmayer, Denis Lambert, J. Elaine Marcos, Melanie Moore, Jenna Nicole Schoen, Joseph J. Simeone, Ahmad Simmons, Ryan Steele, Naomi C. Walley, Anthony Wayne, Tony Yazbeck, Leigh Zimmerman
Scenic Design: Robin Wagner | Costumes: Theoni V. Aldredge | Lighting: Tharon Musser | Lighting Adaptation: Ken Billington | Sound Design: Kai Harada
Presented by New York City Center.
Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes. Through Nov 18.