Top critical review
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on 15 September 2010
A Chorus Line was one of the biggest hit musicals ever with an incredibly long run on Broadway. Personally, I always thought it was a good rather than a great show. But even so, anyone who sees the film version without having first seen the show on stage could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about. Hollywood does not have a very good track record in transferring Broadway classics to the screen. The usual reasons for the lack of success - mis-casting and the wrong director - are both evident in this film.
After several false starts, the film was handed over to Dickie Attenborough, then riding high on his Gandhi success - though that would hardly seem to qualify him for directing a musical. Then we have Michael Douglas - a Hollywood star - in a show that is supposed to be about the anonymous gypsies who are Broadway dancers. Douglas plays Zach, the director/choreographer, although he never gives the slightest hint that he has any talent for either of these jobs (unlike Roy Scheider in All That Jazz). On stage, the director was primarily an off-stage voice, making only one brief appearance. In the film, he is the undeserved center of attention. Thus the whole point of the show begins to disappear.
In building up the Zach role, the emphasis on his former girlfriend Cassie is also increased. So much so that the film could easily have been re-named Zach And Cassie - the chorus line are reduced to minor supporting roles instead of being the focus of attention. Too often, the dancers' stories are interrupted and even ruined by endless cutaways to closeups of Zach and Cassie looking tortured. Not to mention the totally pointless flashbacks. And is Cassie worth all this angst? As played by Alyson Reed, the answer is, frankly, no. When she finally gets to dance, there is nothing special - no obvious star quality. The song for her big solo is changed from the original to a quite banal and forgettable piece that has no hope of being the highlight it should be. Then, to make things even worse, the show's one popular hit - What I Did For Love - is taken away from Morales and the dancers and given to Cassie. So instead of it being a song about the sacrifices that dancers are willing to make, it becomes Cassie's self-pity ditty. This, and other similar decisions, throw the entire show off balance and buries the whole point of A Chorus Line.
In the end, there is little emotional engagement for the audience. The final selection of the dancers seems rather arbitrary and could just as easily have been made at the beginning of the process. Viewed strictly on its own terms, A Chorus Line is probably an enjoyable experience for many people. But, taken in context of the original show and what it is all supposed to be about, the film version is both disappointing and mediocre.