Review of “A Chorus Line” by PatchworkDolly

I’m proud to say that Singapore is fast becoming the arts hub of the East, where we are being treated with first-class arts performances from around the world. And I am privileged to present to you another wonderful review from one of my guest reviewers, PatchworkDolly, of Broadway’s A Chorus Line. Read her original review here.

Title of Production: A Chorus Line

Date of performance: 5 May 2012

Performance Venue: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands

Bare stage and mirrors, and a chance to dance.

Auditions.

THIS IS A CHORUS LINE.

It’s tough on Broadway, and the dancers find themselves in the presence of a booming voice and a vision guided by spotlight. It’s the 17 choose 8 dilemma – all too relevant to (ahem) our elit.. meritocratic little country.

A Chorus Line appears to break away from the usual formula of big sets, colorful costumes and large casts. It is a stripped-down, bare essentials approach towards getting its message across to the audience. The lighting effects are minimal, and it’s all down to each performer’s skill. There is hardly even an overarching plot – which can easily be summarized as 17 choose 8, 1 injured, 8 left dejected. Yet in a “Love Actually” kind of way, the message gets across in each character’s personal story.

9 Tony Awards, 1976 Pullitzer Prize for Drama. 5th longest running Broadway show -ever, revived on Broadway in 2006.

Written and set in the United States, but performed by an Australian cast sporting various American and immigrant accents, for a Singaporean audience.

CHARACTERS.

Perhaps I’ve been  living under a rock, but I had never heard of Chorus Line until I saw it on Sistic. Yet the moment I saw the advert on Sistic, it fell right into my self-made category of Musicals-about-dance/dancers, like Fame! and Flashdance. After watching it I can’t help but think that dance was merely a medium through which a wider message was brought across. It is about loving a dream, and deciding to hold on to that dream even when it disappoints you. Unlike Fame! and Flashdance, these 17 dancers are nowhere close to fame. They know it. It’s about the unconditional love of a mediocre [fill in the blank]. For me, this theme came through most strongly with the character Cassie, who came close to fame, but had since fallen out of the spotlight. Having risen to almost-stardom, she retains her flair and individuality, yet has come to accept the bitter truth that fame is no longer in her reach. She thus humbly accepts her fate, which she chooses to see as a new beginning, and auditions for A Chorus Line for a chance to dance for an audience and be close to her art.

Written for an American audience, many cultural references (i.e. the Bronx? *fist pump*) were lost on me. But someone somewhere had the foresight of putting in a pint-sized Chinese girl (Connie Wong, played by Leah Lim) who has stopped wondering when she’ll grow tits. When asked how old she is, she says “I was born December 5th, four thousand six hundred and forty two, the Year of the Chicken”. Singaporean audiences will also relate to her introduction as “Connie Wong. Always Wong, never Wight”. Thank you James Kirkwood for including the token Chinese girl. (Although one wonders why Chinese women feature more prominently in musicals than Chinese men?)

And I’ll tell you more about Paul later. Remember Paul. Paul is quite a treat.

Whoever played Richie has an amazingly rich as deep dark chocolate – voice. I was blown away by it, although his diction could be a wee bit better….

DANCE. (and Paul)

This is where Jason Tam, who plays Paul, first caught my attention. Paul is a gay Puerto Rican school drop-out, but is actually played by… an asian dude?? Or at least, that’s what his surname leads me to believe. But heritage aside, Jason is a pleasure to watch as a dancer. The choreography was not challenging from a technical point of view, but it was great to watch Jason execute it with ease. He has good stage presence, strong lines, and well-placed accents. Needless to say, I was crushed when he got injured (yes, he’s the one who ends up injured!). Since we’re on the topic of Paul, I found a video of Jason’s audition for Chorus Line, and if you think he’s good here, he’s even better now! This monologue spoke to me even though I’m a straight woman. That’s how powerful it is. Yes…. he made me weep too.

The rest of the cast was just a little bit weak on the dance front, which probably explains why they are in the Chorus Line I suppose?  There was something odd about their shoulder placements. That said, the moves were executed satisfactorily, and each character shone in on their own when they could perform in their own comfort zone. Leah Lin, however, had much better technique and beautiful lines and transitions between steps / poses – I was pleased to see the ballerina come through!

SONGS & MUSIC

While A Chorus Line is famous for “I Hope I Get It”, “What I Did for Love”, I was actually more impressed with “Sing!” for its originality (or perhaps I just liked the interaction in the song, which is usually present in larger doses in most musicals) – done by Kristine and Al Deluca. Kristine is tone-deaf and her husband Al Deluca fills in for her at ingeniously timed points in the song that somehow makes the song work. I say it’s genius because Kristine actually “sings” in a monotone sort of way, about 80% of the song. Kudos to Marvin Hamlisch who composed the music for A Chorus Line. And I didn’t know this then, but the Tina and Mike characters from Glee actually sang “Sing!” in one of the episodes – although I’d have to say the musical beats them hands-down.

As with most musicals, you inevitably feel so much more about the songs once you’ve seen the context in which they were sung. I saw “What I Did for Love” on Youtube before watching the musical, but it speaks to me so much more now that I can listen to it in the context of Paul’s injury. During the audition, Paul snaps a ligament (I think?) and is brought to the hospital, while the rest of the auditionees are left to ponder about the perilous nature of their livelihood. This really hits home with me because I feel my knees giving out slowly, and I know that my days of serious dancing are numbered. I suppose it’s a common theme that everyone can relate to in one way or another. We’re all afraid of losing something..

Look my eyes are dry

The gift was ours to borrow

It’s as if we always knew

And I won’t regret

What I did for love

What I did for love

..

As we travel on

Love’s what we’ll remember

Kiss today goodbye

and point me toward tomorrow

We did what we had to do

Wont forget

Cant regret

What I did for love” — Lyrics, What I Did for Love.

There’s something beautiful about loving something just because it speaks to you or moves you. Perhaps being mediocre brings out a purer form of love, untainted by the lure of fame.

And just hold that thought – what happens if you juxtapose this with “In the same way, the last will be first, and the first will be last, because many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 20:16)?

And in the backdrop, remember that our very own musicians from Singapore are playing in the orchestra this time for Chorus Line!

A Chorus Line is showing in Singapore till 27 May 2012, at Sands Theater in Marina Bay Sands.

ABOUT PATCHWORKDOLLY

PatchworkDolly is a writer, talented dancer, ukulele musician, and dear friend. She feels keenly for the arts in Singapore, and despite her busy schedule often takes time out to savour the arts offerings on our humble island. Do visit her new blog, http://patchworkdoodle.wordpress.com/, where she will share with you her thoughtful ruminations on what she watches.


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