A Chorus Line
Original Cast Recording
1975: Columbia CK 33581
It’s a little confusing without the script or a viewing of the show, live, but still this recording is a justified icon in Broadway musical history and speaks volumes…I guess it just depends on the listener’s personal context what reaches them and what remains to connect at a later date.
I had the complicated pleasure of running the lead followspot for a good college production of this in my hometown (complicated because 1. it wasn’t at the college I was attending, and 2. my very-recently-exed Ex was playing one of the main characters, and there’s nothing like having to followspot someone under those circumstances to test your professionalism [p.s. I passed the test]), so I got to know the music and stories better than one usually does just from listening to this album, but I’d been familiar with the record for some time before that, although offhand I can’t think how that was.
This recording of course leaves out a lot of incidental monologue that occurs with music (the gonorrhea bit immediately comes to mind), but what is included in the character-establishing pieces of the first half is enchanting and engaging. The ultimate experience on this album is definitely the 3-part Montage which is a dazzling sound-bite trip through puberty as experienced by a dozen or more characters; its core is captured perfectly by the line (given to only women of the company to sing, which strikes me as unfair except as a matter of needed sonic effect) in “Montage, Part 4”My only adolescence—where did it go? It was so…my only adolescence—where did it go? It was so…” That indeed is how it goes: so occupying that you can’t even see it happening at the time, and then, BOOM, gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it except agonize later.
Catchy stuff left and right distracts me from the overall picture at times—“Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” and “At the Ballet” are two examples at very different extremes—and the quality of vocal performances ranges from Heh to Yowza. It’s impossible to specify “standout” tracks here, as nearly every individual performance is laudable. “What I Did For Love” suffers from overexposure as well as from being so overblown even within its setting, but Priscilla Lopez delivers it as sincerely as she does the much more commanding “Nothing.”
I do love the fact that during the entire musical we are only dealing with the singing dancers who will appear behind some as-yet-unnamed Big Star. Considering the pomp of the final number, I think that fact gets lost but bears contemplation: this is all just the drama behind the scenes of what really amounts to filler. The show “A Chorus Line” may focus on these singer/dancer auditioners, but the show they’re auditioning for has no place for them as individuals despite their journey toward arrival here. It’s a tragedy, in that sense, but with a lot of comic presentation.
Personally I love this album, although it does bog down as an album when the “One” variations start; the play itself doesn’t, necessarily, especially thanks to the Zach/Cassie sparring throughout, but the album does. Then again, after the dazzling array of voices and stories in the first half of this CD, how could it not?
As for the film version that came out in the late 1980s, well, ah, all I can say is inexpressible because I don’t know how to transcribe the sounds that occur in violent vomitings. At the polite end of the scale it would be appropriate to say it was inexcusably bad; at the other end, well, again there are no words for how atrocious that little monstrosity was. You can’t recast a grim New York dancer-job contest into a glitzy L.A. context, PERIOD. That whole cast appeared to have chosen Val’s route, which seems to be necessary to fly in that special little pit of Hell.
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Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.