At curtain call, even after the rousing, white-spangled, top-hatted, high-kicking finale, you still feel heatsick for those kids who did not make it through the audition into "A Chorus Line"
This dazzling show-biz musical, which danced itself into the history of the American musical theater five years ago, opened last night at the National Theater on a three-week return engagement to Washington.
It remains a marvelous show. The second time around, it is still fresh, bouncy, adventuresome, touching, sad, funny. The present company brings a polished production with spirited performers.
The format is quite simple. It is the backstage story of an audition of dancers for the chorus line of an upcoming Broadway show. Seventeen nervous "gypsies" -- the chorus dancers who move from show to show -- are finalists for eight slots.
The choreographer-director invites them to talk about themselves. The audition becomes a kind of group therapy with painful, intensely personal confessions about their dreams, fears, fantasies and ambitions.
If there is any star of the show, it is the production, with its stunning theatricality. The present production recreates the spectacular staging of the Broadway original.
There is Robin Wagner's back-mirrored rehearsal hall with the white line drawn for the chorus line. Tharon Musser's imspired computerized lighting helps pace the show as spots pick up the faces of the chorus line's members to pinpoint their thoughts during the audition.
If one has to single out names from the large cast, there are Michael Gorman as Bobby, with his deadpan comic monologue; Susan Danielle as Sheila, the sexy, wisecracking brunette; Rita Rehn as the bouncy Morales ("ethnic is in"), who felt nothing during her method-acting classes.
Phillip Riccobuono sensitively handles the long, difficult monologue of Paul, who talks about his homosexuality and the searing experience of appearing in a drag show.
As Cassie, who failed in Hollywood and wants to come back to the security of the chorus line, Alyson Reed brilliantly carries off the spectacular dance scene against the revolving mirrors, moving alone with her own images. She catches the vulnerability of Cassie but misses the desperation that Donna McKechnie brought to the original Broadway cast.
David Thome is excellent as Zach, the ambitious, uptight director who once was Cassie's lover and thinks she is too good to blend into his chorus line.
Marvin Hamlisch's score doesn't have the hummable show-stopper but it carries along the stories and the surge of the musical.
The Busby Berkeley-style finale, with the dancers in precise lockstep and identical top hats and white dancing suits, has its special irony. The individuals we have met have lost their identities once more in the anonymity of the chorus line.
This is a show that you can see over again without getting tired. It still is daring in concept and spectacular in production.