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A director is casting dancers for a large production. Large numbers of hopefulls audition, hoping to be selected. Throughout the day, more and more people are eliminated, and the competition gets harder. Eventually, approximately a dozen dancers must compete for a few spots, each hoping to impress the director with their dancing skill. But, is this really what the director is looking for? Written by
Murray Chapman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the major dance scene, just at the end of the audition sequence, you can clearly see dancers who have been shown to be rejected. This scene isn't intended to be in continuity, but is more like a curtain call (as it was in the Broadway musical). See more »
Don't you know the combination, Sheila?
I knew it when I was in front!
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If you've never seen a stage production of "A Chorus Line" (no small feat, since it was not only once the longest running show on Broadway but has had extensive touring and regional exposure), then the movie version is perhaps better than nothing. However, an acquaintance with the source material makes one realize how much the film falls short of the power of the original.
Michael Bennett's magnum opus was conceived as a tribute to "gypsies"--Broadway chorus dancers--and in a way, to the every bodies and nobodies from all walks of life. The characters in "Chorus Line" are not rich or famous, nor are they likely to be, and over the course of the story they bare legs, heart and soul just for the chance to be one body in a unified, faceless corps. Bennett brought out each dancer's individuality, making each a loving, well-defined portrait of a human being with all the hopes and dreams, problems and shames that everyone has but nobody ever sees. But director Richard Attenborough undermines this essential concept in two very distinct ways.
First, there is the presence of Michael Douglas as Zach, the choreographer who puts the auditioning dancers through the paces. Granted, if one must have a "name" actor in "A Chorus Line" then this is the place for it--Zach neither sings nor dances, and exists mostly as a God-like voice issuing from the dark of the auditorium. But Douglas' very presence overshadows the dancers, who should be the heart and soul of the show. True, his name is listed in the credits alphabetically with everyone else's, but every time the camera's on him we go "Hey, that's Michael Douglas," pulling our focus from where it should be.
Also pulling focus is the undue emphasis Attenborough puts on Cassie, the veteran dancer who was once Zach's lover. Although Zach and Cassie's relationship is a part of the stage show, it is but once facet among the many stories told over the evening. Attenborough makes Cassie the central part of the film, shortchanging several other characters in order to provide flashbacks of her life with Zach and her former glory days as a featured dancer. She's even given the eleven o'clock number "What I Did For Love," a song that originally was written as the dancers' anthem to pursuing the dream of Broadway without regret but is here employed as just another torch ballad. (Composer Marvin Hamlish and lyricist Edward Kleban have expressed dissatisfaction with this song, claiming the lyrics were too generalized; its misuse here unfortunately proves their point.) Near the end of the film, when Cassie tells Zach that all the dancers on stage are special, the words ring hollow, not only because of all the screen time she's gotten but because (unlike the stage version) she's been backstage and away from the audition for the majority of the proceedings.
Now and then, one gets a glimpse of what "A Chorus Line" should be. The dancing is good and photographed well, and the music (though over synthesized for the film and sung by mostly mediocre voices) still has impact. But this landmark musical deserved a far more memorable and worthy screen incarnation than it has been given.
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