Without Missing a Step


Sometimes existential philosophy circulates in university classrooms and libraries, or hangs out on the foreign-language shelves of used bookstores. And then, sometimes, it lands on Broadway, dressed in a gold vest and leggings and a gold top hat-as in the current brash, diverting revival of the legendary musical A Chorus Line.

A glitzy stage extravaganza might not seem a likely vehicle for ideas about individual freedom in a potentially absurd universe, but then A Chorus Line occupies a theatrical niche of its own. During the play’s incubation three decades ago, director/choreographer Michael Bennett conducted lengthy taping sessions, gathering personal histories from actual dancers. Versions of these sagas found their way into the musical, which depicts the triumph and despair of a large casting call for Broadway hoofers. With a score by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line opened in 1975 and went on to nab the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; the production ran for nearly fifteen years. Now the show is back, in a version directed by Bob Avian, who co-choreographed the original.

Though it ostensibly concerns an audition, A Chorus Line really has a far broader scope: it’s about any person’s battle to define his or her life and achieve success. That symbolic network of meaning is very much on view in the revival, which gets off the requisite...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.