Zach (Michael Douglas) is casting his new show for Broadway, and today he is holding the rehearsals for the chorus line, which has attracted a whole bunch of dancers, some seasoned pros and others hoping for a big break. He has decided to stage these rehearsals in the theatre where they will put on the show, and as a result there is a traffic jam outside as the hopefuls arrive; eventually everyone is assembled inside and are put through their paces en masse, a crowd of moving bodies, some of whom can keep up with the demands of the music and others who cannot...
For only a few will actually make it through to the final show, and first they have to endure Zach's very particular techniques in paring down his audition to the cream of the crop. Whether that made for a good film was a different matter, as while A Chorus Line had been a huge success on Broadway, it proved very difficult to adapt, with a few hands passing on the script as it was moulded into something cinematic. The trouble being that in that long process the fans of the original felt that whatever had made the musical special had been thrown out of the window with director Richard Attenborough considered all wrong for a work which should have endured.
At least as long as the stage production did, at any rate, but if there was ever a film rooted in 1985 it was this: you just had to take one look at the choreography and recognise you were in the territory of Fame, Flashdance and - heaven forfend - Staying Alive. As with those, there was a single song which was instantly catchy and well known to those who had never even seen it, in this case Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban's One, and didn't we hear it a lot here, as if the film lacked faith in allowing us to listen to any other song, only reluctantly allowing the cast their solo spots to perform something else. Then again, the arrangement of those tunes was still unmistakably eighties.
So if you wanted nostalgia for that decade and didn't mind watching one of its most notorious flops to get your fix, then A Chorus Line supplied that, even if the dread hand of kitsch was grasping one shoulder throughout. Zach has a curious way of working in that he demands the twenty or so dancers he has broken the horde down into relate some of their life history, as if he's going to feed this into the final result, yet we never get a sense of why this is important or for that matter what he had in mind anyway. Is this some control freakery where he orders his staff to expose themselves emotionally and then he knows they will be his for life? Or is he just a nosy parker? It's a major plot point which may allow us to understand the characters, but lacks a good reason otherwise.
Beefed up from the original was a romantic narrative where Cassie (Alyson Reed) turns up late for the audition but gets in anyway because she used to be a star, or a fair-sized name at least, but is now reduced to the chorus when Zach knows she's better than that deserves. They also have a former relationship to add depth, but if anything this tends to demean the dancers we see, which may be dramatic irony but seems to have passed this by in that we get to see how fabulous they can be, then are invited to see the chorus line as every bit the equal of those headlining the show. Another issue you may have is that the muted Douglas aside the cast tend to play to the gallery, so when Zach complains they're being too affected in their answers to his probing questions we can only agree, then once they're supposed to be less so there's very little difference. So what you have is not capturing a classic stage production, and more a past it relic, an afterthought to a massive success. But if you like eighties choreography, it's a feast.