Friday, December 5, 2008

A Chorus Line / It's A Wonderful Life

Howard Kane and I love to go to the theatre. In this entry, we went to see productions of A Chorus Line at the Canon Theatre, and an adaptation of It's A Wonderful Life done like a radio show in the Forties, presented by the Canadian Stage.

Paul: Which of the two shows did you like better?

Howard: A Chorus Line, but you're talking to a Chorus Line queen.

Paul: You were actually in a production of the show.

Howard: I was, as Bobby, 22 years ago. It did on and off for about 3 years. I've seen it as an audience member about 300 times.

Paul: And you never get tired of it?

Howard: No. I saw the revival two years ago, but before that it was about fifteen years.

Paul: We got to meet Baayork Lee recently. 

Howard: Wasn't she wonderful? She was Michael Bennett's associate choreographer. She recreates the choreography for every production. She was the original Connie Chung, the girl who is four feet ten.

Paul: Why do you think it's such a great show?

Howard: Let me ask you that question, Paul.

Paul: I like its simplicity. I like the fact that it's in real time. I like that the monologues are directed to the audience, so you're constantly being engaged. I love the fact that there's no intermission, so there is nothing to take you out of that world for two hours. It's so visually stimulating, considering that there is nothing onstage but mirrors and people dancing. But also because it's about theatre, and so honest.

Howard: I love the emotional content of it. If you don't get it, you don't have a heart. It was way before reality TV, way before people talked about these things. It was the first musical I ever saw, and it's why I'm in the business today.

Paul: You mentioned reality TV. In the past ten years, we've seen a rise in shows in which people compete in talent shows, like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. The whole competition and elimination elements. A Chorus Line anticipated that. That's probably why it's still so popular.

Howard: It was so ahead of its time. When I interviewed Bob Avian, the other choreographer, he said that today, he and Baayork would not get jobs. Nowadays, everyone has to be gorgeous, and a triple threat. Michael Bennett was so ahead of his time. Thirty-three years ago, he was putting in gay characters because they were a part of New York's theatre culture. He didn't shy away from it. No one did that. Plus the show had Asian and black characters.

Paul: I first saw it on Broadway in December 1979, within the first few years of its run.

Howard: The show was at its peak then because Michael Bennett was still involved.

Paul: Why on earth did we go see It's A Wonderful Life? Comps?

Howard: I love seeing bad theatre with you, Paul.

Paul: It was the day after Chorus Line. We were still on a high. It was the complete opposite to Chorus Line. Wonderful Life had a beautiful set, the interior of a radio studio from the 40s, with all that cool furniture, and yet absolutely nothing was happening. A Chorus Line, with no set, was more visually interesting. All those Canadian actors in period make-up running around very busy, looking for their scripts and whatnot, but it was curiously unengaging. No one looks at each other or at the audience. They just shout their lines into vintage microphones. You can't watch radio. It's insane, the dumbest idea for a show ever.

Howard: The publicist could not tell me what the story was about. That's how I knew we were in trouble.

Paul: Radio is easy to listen to, because it's made in a controlled environment. This was a stage play, so everything is so screechy and echoey. There was a piano player on one side, a foley artist on the other, and too many actors yelling in the middle. It was really hard just to listen to it. Plus there was a clock on the wall as part of the radio studio's set design, and it had the real time, and all I could think was, "How much longer do we have to sit here?"

Howard: When I saw those two old ladies walk out, I looked over at you and I knew we were thinking the same thing.

Paul: Yeah, how lucky they were to bail. We were trapped dead center.

Howard: I interviewed cast member Steven Gallagher, who is such a handsome man, but no one looked good in this show. Everyone looked so ugly.

Paul: I know. There were so many cute boys in A Chorus Line it was like being at Remingtons. Remember the doll who sang "I Can Do That"? I pointed at him and looked at you and said, "I could do that."

Howard: I loved going out for martinis afterwards, it was so New York. I felt like we were two theatre critics leaving a disastrous production and going to the bar next door to trash the show. I liked trashing the show more than the actual show. I don't think Christmas shows ever work. I'm so glad A Chorus Line was here, but Richard Ouzounian did not give it a good review. He said it was tired and stale.

Paul: I heard he was actually just talking about himself.