I one time counseled someone in a Broadway chat room not to write off Hello, Dolly! after they had seen a community theatre production of it and thought it was only okay. Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing was my first big Broadway show (on tour), and I can’t imagine anyone seeing the show for the first time with such talent and not loving it. It’s such an amazing show and a model of musical theatre perfection.
I wouldn’t myself understand the power of community theatre to destroy a perfectly good musical had I not experienced it on a few occasions. The first time I experienced The Music Man was in a so-so production where the director fixed Meredith Willson’s original book by removing “Rock Island.” In this production, Harold Hill was old enough to be Marian Paroo’s father.
When I saw the thrilling 2000 revival of The Music Man starring Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker, I got the message loud and clear. Any Broadway masterpiece can become a casualty of love in the world of community theatre (which, in my findings, tends to be far weaker than high school theatre).
A Chrous Line is a particularly difficult show to do unprofessionally. You have to have triple threats, and you can’t easily rely on a bunch of clumsy hockey moms to carry you through, like you can with The Pajama Game or Annie. A show that communicates so much with dance simply must have people who can actually dance (not to mention a choreographer up to the challenge of creating impressive steps).
It also doesn’t help that the libretto of A Chorus Line is fragile in areas. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this except I witnessed a community theatre production in which A Chorus Line became a casualty of love. Without skillful directing, the plotless nature of the show becomes a burden on the audience, with the “What will you do when you can’t dance” section collapsing under the weight of its own annexation, feeling more like a Michael Bennett soap box than an extension of the narrative. Furthermore, without careful direction, the conceit of the show gets off to a rough start as actors struggle to make establishing dialogue function as subtext-rich, naturalistic dialogue.
Plus, it doesn’t help when the Cassie really can’t act.
The true test of A Chorus Line came when the Broadway tour came into town. But more on that next time.
After my first trip to Broadway in 2000, I remember sitting in the audience of the Parade tour, talking with a woman who was planning a trip to New York. She was asking me what I liked, and I was telling her about Kiss Me, Kate. “Oh,” she said dismissively, “I’ve seen that.”
Now, I might have the guts to say, “Yes, you’ve seen a production, but I don’t think you’ve really seen Kiss Me, Kate.”
the Broadway Mouth
June 22, 2009