New York City Center’s Gala Presentation of A Chorus Line
by Mo Brady
Watching the City Center Gala Presentation of A Chorus Line is like watching two shows simultaneously. The first is the classic masterpiece about dancers auditioning for Broadway in 1975. The second is a chance to watch some of the best Broadway performers of today tell a story that mirrors their own. Each is highly satisfying on their own, but the combination of the two is truly sublime.
For example, during the song “I Can Do That,” we watch the character Mike prove his agility to perform for his fellow auditioners. At the same time, we are watching actor Tommy Bracco possess the same remarkable ability to entertain the audience at City Center. We know that this role wasn’t created for him. In many cases, the roles in A Chorus Line were based on the actors that originated them, but the characters are so truthful and specific that they seem to fit this company perfectly.
Any production of A Chorus Line carries a significant amount of baggage, thanks to the mystique and lore surrounding the show’s original production. Yet, what allows productions to live up to this hype is that it’s a truly well-written musical that embraces universal messages by making its characters hyperspecific.
The show’s celebrated staging and story make the musical a “bucket list” show for many Broadway dancers. City Center was able to snag many of Broadway’s most prolific dancers to join its cast. (When you have Ahmad Simmons, who was seen in last season’s incredible ensemble of Carousel, playing cut dancer Tom, the company is sure to be full of ringers.)
Playing roles that so seemingly mirror their own careers allows the company to bring ease and naturalism to their performances. Jay Armstrong Johnson uses his own sly humor to shine as Bobby, and J. Elaine Marcos’ brazen humor makes the role of Val sparkle.
Robyn Hurder plays the role of Cassie with such simplicity, it’s as if she isn’t acting at all. When she performs “The Music and the Mirror,” her love for dancing is palpable. And when she sings the lyric “I’ll do you proud,” her voice transmits a truth that seems to make the theatre walls vibrate.
The Gala Presentation gives New York audience the chance to enjoy fantastic interpretations of roles by actors who have played them elsewhere. Leigh Silverman is truly staggering as Sheila, reprising the role she won an Olivier Award for with both icy humor and honest hunger. Denis Lambert draws comedy from every possible line (and then some) as Greg, having playing the role on Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl. And David Grindrod reprises Mark, a role he’s played on national and international tours, with a simplistic winning energy.
While A Chorus Line is undoubtedly a period piece, much of the dialogue feels as contemporary as ever. In the scene before “What I Did For Love,” the director, Zach, asks the auditioners what they would do if they couldn’t dance anymore. Their responses - Sheila’s desire to start a dance studio, Val’s pursuit of legitimate acting roles - are the same answers that many actors would give to that question today. When Al laments about his contemporaries leaving the business because they can’t afford to live as a performer, the statement - and the show as a whole - feel strikingly pertinent.