I’m going to admit something that will probably lose me some flaming homosexual street cred: I don’t really like A Chorus Line. There, I said it. Feel free to begin reacting with horror and disbelief. This is not some “hipster queer” ploy to roll my eyes at one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history. I just don’t like it. “Dance 10, Looks, 3” is a fun, cheeky number that can play well at a Broadway-themed drag show, and “Nothing” is just the right amount of bitter and cynical to pique my interest; occasionally, if I’m in the mood for a strong ensemble number I’ll dust off “I Hope I Get It.” But overall, I’m just sort of…meh. I think I’m just conflicted about what the show is really trying to say. But more on that later. First, this current production…
For those who aren’t familiar, A Chorus Line is about Broadway hopefuls auditioning to be part of the dance chorus for a new show directed by Zach (Hyrum Patterson). The UND Theatre production of A Chorus Line was directed by Ali Angelone, the department’s choreographer, and you can tell: each character has a movement and dance style that is distinctly their own with visually enticing choreography that draws the audience into their characters, and the group dance sequences are energetic and coalesce from the frenzied mob of the first round auditions into streamlined combinations before the final cut. The actors were all good, but the characters in this show always seem to run together for me, which is perhaps part of the point: even as we are getting to know them and hear their stories, they are auditioning to become a part of dance chorus, a role that by definition erases individuality. I loved Sheila’s (Jacqueline DeGraff) salty growl, but I always forget that she and Val (Michelle Stahlecker) are different characters. I’m always prepared for Diana (Emily Wirkus) to sing “Nothing,” but I forget that she also takes the lead on “What I Did For Love;” I always expect it to be Cassie (Jackie O’Neal) as a sort of cap on the hastily-introduced-and-never-really-resolved backstory of her relationship with Zach. There was something fun and quirky about everyone, even the dancers who get cut right away and disappear before the story even really starts. But nobody really sticks to you – except maybe Paul (Patrick Kloeckner), the gay man who injures his recently-operated-on knee during one of the routines and sets the stage for the poignant reflection of “What I Did For Love.” His long confessional followed by his injury and subsequent disappearance set him apart by his absence.
Now it’s time for my own confessional, the part of the article where I ruminate about why I dislike A Chorus Line so much. I feel like I know what the show, on the surface, is trying to do: put faces and names to the countless people who dedicate their lives to entertainment but never reach that fabled pinnacle of stardom where people actually recognize you. I get that. Believe me, I get it. I’m a drag queen who updates her website and bedazzles gowns on whatever breaks she can find in her 50+ hour work week. Rather than following the trials and tribulations of a couple of leads, the show is populated by a range of individuals who are all important, all special. But where I feel like the goal of the show fails is that though the characters are all important and all special, they aren’t all memorable. They’re all sort of a muddled group of talented, ambitious people, but the show still draws a line between the people who are “good enough” to be in the chorus, and those who are “good enough” to be stars – and those who aren’t good enough to be either. Cassie and Zach talk about why she is auditioning for the chorus, and Zach insist that she is too good to be there. That he eventually casts her is not so much a validation of the chorus as it is a way to give her story a sort of happy ending.
As the cast retakes the stage at the end in their matching gold sequined outfits, everyone sort of melts together and you forget that they were ever really individuals at all. And it’s supposed to be like that, but I don’t think it achieves the message or the meaning that the creators of the show intended. As the shiny, spandex-y line emerges and sings about being “One” singular sensation, it’s hard to remember who was cut and who wasn’t. And which one was the married guy who worked at the strip club (Don – Brett Olson)? And isn’t that the dance leader (Larry – Casey Paradies)? Oh yeah, and there’s the girl who’s sweet and naïve and comes from a broken home – what was her name again (Maggie – Daniella Lima)? And as they all get a little fuzzier and a little more distant, you can just be happy that Cassie has a job again and you don’t have to feel bad for those dancers who got cut because they’re up here in the line after all so there are no consequences, right? I mean heck, even Paul joins in again for the final refrain.
Even though everything is sparkly and golden and wonderful as the curtain falls, the show still reinforces this hierarchical arrangement of talent and reward; we get a brief taste of the lives and experiences of those who toil at this level, but in the end it all fades like the touristy memories of rich folks who drive through poor neighborhoods in their Escalades to “see how the other half lives” before retreating back to their alarmed compounds and anti-bacterial soap. And that, dear readers, is what I think of that.
But lest you think I’m a joyless curmudgeon, I’m perfectly capable of switching off my inner critic for a night of superb dancing and singing and acting. And once again, UND’s Theatre Arts Department serves up a fine show that is technically sound, well planned and well-executed, and provides an evening of quality entertainment. And that’s why we do what we do for love.
Tags: A Chorus Line, Ali Angelone, auditions, Brett John Olson, Brett Olson, Brian Dempcy, broadway auditions, broadway dancers, Burtness Theater, Burtness Theatre, Casey Paradies, Chorus Line, Dance 10 Looks 3, dance captain, dance line, Dance Ten Looks Three, Emily Wirkus, Hyrum Patterson, Jackie O'Neal, Jacqueline DeGraff, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Michelle Stahlecker, Miss Jaye, Morales, Nothing, One, Patrick Kloeckner, UND Theater, UND Theater Arts, UND Theatre, UND Theatre Arts, What I Did For Love