The year 1975 did not bequeath to us a lot of popular culture that has stood the test of time. Best sellers included “Shogun” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” TV was all about “Laverne & Shirley” and “Starsky and Hutch,” and the most popular songs practically define dated cheese: “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”
So it’s surprising how well the biggest Broadway musical of that year, “A Chorus Line,” has stood the test of time. It’s not as fresh as it once was — who is at age 36? — and creaks a bit here and there. But Michael Bennett’s show, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, still has emotional resonance in the new national touring company that’s playing at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre through Sunday.
The story of one day’s brutal audition of dancers to be in a Broadway show is a cross between a police lineup and a mandatory therapy session. A God-like, mostly unseen director, Zach (Ryan Steer), manipulates the dancers into telling their life stories, almost none of which center on happy childhoods. There are daddy issues, sexual identity issues and that old standby, crappy adolescence issues. But when one young woman sings, “Different is nice but it sure isn’t pretty, and pretty is what it’s about,” that sentiment works just as well in 2011 as it did in 1975.
The cast can sometimes seem young and inexperienced, and not in an “in character” way, and a little pitchiness, as the “American Idol” judges call it, creeps in occasionally. But at least two performances help elevate the show. Gaspare Diblasi is Paul, whose monologue about growing up gay was startling then, not quite so much now due to social changes, but still deeply moving. As gutsy Diana Morales, Gina Duci (at left, a spunky fireplug in the Mary Lou Retton mold) gets “Line’s” best number — “Nothing,” a funny reminiscence about a bad acting teacher — as well as the show’s big, soppy ballad, “What I Did for Love.” Her voice is not astonishing, but her conviction is; I’d take her rendition of “Nothing” over Priscilla Lopez’s, who sang it on the original Broadcast cast album, any day.
There was some cast churn on opening night, with four actors playing roles they don’t usually do. The toughest assignment went to Chelsea Swanderski, who stepped in as Val and managed ably on the famous “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.”
Reviewing the original in The New York Times, Clive Barnes acknowledged that the show is “hokum” but also called it “tremendous.” It rounds up some old showbiz clichés, creates a few of its own, puts them all into glitter tuxes in front of a mirror and lets them strut.