“What am I doing in show business?”
That’s the exasperated plea of Al, one of the dancing hopefuls getting knocked about in a tap sequence as “A Chorus Line” rounds third base. It’s the question that is so deeply rooted into the fabric of this Pulitzer and multi-Tony winning musical that its penultimate number, “What I Did For Love,” essentially mirrors the same query.
What perhaps explains the enduring appeal of “A Chorus Line” after four-plus decades is how it explores that question.
For the most part, the opening performance of the production by the Lexington Theatre Company Thursday night at the Opera House upholds the sense of grueling fascination “A Chorus Line” presents.
A thoroughly de-glamorized saga of life in the theatre, it presents characters with little pretense of stardom, despite boasts to the contrary near the end of the show. They are instead fueled by a simple and very practical sense of desperation — a strategy “I Hope I Get It” spells out as it introduces a very eager ensemble.
While the bare stage setting for “A Chorus Line” is intended to play out as an arena for an audition, what results is more of a therapy session.
Within the discovery of the actors’ assorted quirks, insecurities and purposely boastful conceit, we find characters this cast nicely brings to life, from the adorably pitch deficient Kristine (played with discreet aloofness by Elizabeth McGuire), the unapologetically petite Connie (empowered with boundless vigor by Kendyl Ito) and Bobby (a proudly recalcitrant James Spencer Dean) whose stymied upstate New York upbringing produces one of the show’s most memorably cynical lines (“To commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant”).
While “A Chorus Line” seems to take pride in presenting itself as an ensemble piece, Sarah Bowden and Peter Garza make the most of their stage time away from the pack as Cassie and Paul. Bowman offers a sobering and repentant account of Cassie’s return to the chorus ranks following an effectively stalled career.
A beautifully executed dance incorporating elements of ballet and jazz set to “The Music and the Mirror” empowers that call. Garza’s equally confessional speech of youthful abuse and discovery could have easily slid into forced sentimentalism. Instead he delivered it with vulnerable, nuanced and thoroughly convincing candor.
Denis Lambert’s portrayal of director Zach, however, seemed overly ordered — stoic, almost. In one of the show’s many ironies, Zach regularly tells his subjects to relax, when in fact his character — and Lambert’s portrayal of it — could have been served well by adhering to such advice
“A Chorus Line” has never been a flawless piece. The backstory of a past romance between Cassie and Zach is sewn into the story almost as an afterthought. Similarly, the show loses steam following a supposedly career ending injury to Paul (which was depicted last night with surprising calmness) and a subsequent query about life after or without dancing. That’s when you really wonder what these characters are doing in show business.
That said, there is little denying the sense of elation displayed in this production when the final cut of dancers are cast. What you sense has been won is a slice of survival, the kind earned at the conclusion of a marathon as opposed to an audition.
The audience may sense the same thing. Though staged with swift and efficient pacing that luxuriates in costuming and set mimimalism, “A Chorus Line” remains an indulgence. Thursday night’s performance, including a lengthy curtain speech, ran a whopping two hours and 20 minutes without an intermission.
Though a pleasurable enough evening, that’s still a lot to do for love.
IF YOU GO
‘A Chorus Line’
What: The Lexington Theatre Company’s production of the classic musical composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 2, 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 4; 1 p.m. Aug. 5.
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.