Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 May 2007

Singular Sensations

The movie of A Chorus Line is a lot like the stage play, although I had been told by several people that it was very different. I was prepared for a complete lack of musical numbers, for a huge subplot involving pizza and ninjas, for really bad direction, but none of these makes it into the film.

The movie cuts a couple of numbers: three to be exact ("Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love", "Sing!", and "The Music and the Mirror") and transfers a fourth to a different performer ("What I Did for Love" is sung by Cassie instead of Morales). It also adds two truly terrible songs. "Surprise, Surprise" (which was inexplicably nominated for an Oscar) was written for the film as a replacement to "Hello Twelve..." and "Let Me Dance for You" replaces "Music/Mirror". Both songs are bad and the lyrics are interesting in neither. It's a shame that these tunes replaced better songs. (I was glad "Sing!" was cut. It's annoying.)

Some of the envelope-pushing aspects of the original stage show—okay, not really some—have been removed. It's more like most of the references to homosexuality that are in the show simply aren't in the movie. The film tends to gloss over this element in the show. This is really stupid, of course, because most of the dancers in the movie are obviously gay (We're supposed to believe that Gregg Burge is straight? Oh, please). The show, of course, works so well because it is a window into the world of Broadway chorus dancers. It tells their stories: The Red Shoes and acting training and plastic surgery and competition and fucked-up childhoods and (gasp!) homosexuality. For the movie to gloss over this one aspect is (oh my god he's going to say it again) really just an example of the pervasive homophobia that exists in popular culture.

But this is not a bad movie, and it is especially adept at creating the kind of tension that fills an audition space. No matter what the director says—no matter who gets to stay and who has to go—he commits a kind of violence having to cut people from his cast (I always dread having to do it). But the money shot in the film is the penultimate scene when Michael Douglas names his cast: the relief, the sheer joy, on the faces of the eight performers who finally get the job choked me up a little. I forget how important it is to be cast in something. I forget how brave performers have to be.