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The Tentacle


December 5, 2008

"Chorus Line" Review

Roy Meachum

"Chorus Line" opened Tuesday at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. That should be quite enough for anyone who knows the slightest thing about theatre; they should rush to buy tickets for the show that ends a week from Sunday, on December 14. It lasted 15 years on Broadway and was brought back for a two-year revival that spawned the national tour visiting Charm City. This is a true stage icon.

 

The first comparable musical comedy in my life was "Oklahoma;" it taught the Great White Way that books (scripts) mattered. During my Washington critic era, "Man of La Mancha" was true to the standard set by Oscar Hammerstein in the wartime show. I adored the Don Quixote story, the music and the staging at New York's ANTA Washington Square Theatre; it was a triple level chess layout. I glowed while writing my review.

 

The genius generally credited for creating "Chorus Line," Michael Bennett, choreographed his first show the same year I started reviewing (1966). In my mind, he remained a buck-and-winger who did a very good job displaying people on stage. His real breakthrough was the show that playing Baltimore's Hippodrome these nights. As the man himself said, anything after "Chorus Line" would be "anti-climatic." He went on to win his seventh Tony for "Dreamgirls." But he was right. Of course.

 

Mr. Bennett, along with listed writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, earned a Pulitzer Prize for drama and he richly deserved it. What makes "Chorus Line" so very special is the script drawn from interviews with hundreds of dancers: relegated as "gypsies" in the trade, where they show up and disappear regularly. The show is all about them and not limited to those few who taped their memories and recollections. Most cast members are too young to have been around when Michael Bennett's masterwork made its Broadway debut in October 1975.

 

What a Hippodrome customer gets is Broadway quality in Baltimore. Bob Avian shared the Tony for choreography with Mr. Bennett. The scenery and costumes were designed by names I knew from Washington productions. Robin Wagner and Theoni Aldredge's skills helped give Arena Stage its golden days.

 

As for the gypsies themselves, individually and collectively, they brandish their talents; none would be out of place on the Great White Way. More than several have been there. But still I have a fault to pick.

 

Knowing bus-and-truck tours are no fun and with locations fading into each other; for whatever reason, Tuesday night the production was flat. Director Bob Avian won another co-award with Mr. Bennett for overseeing the original show. He and production manager Jake Bell share the responsibility for keeping cast and crew on their toes. As conceived "Chorus Line" was very emotional. In fact the Baltimore opening night was by-the-numbers, mechanical. What a pity!

 

The very-saving grace, stage productions are not movies; each is slightly different. By the time you get your ticket and trek on over to Baltimore, everything on the Hippodrome stage should be sparkling and fresh once more. Count on it!

 

In any event, ya gotta see "Chorus Line," which, like "Oklahoma," set the high-water mark for all musicals to come. It's so much wow!

 



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