A CHORUS LINE, Drury Lane Theatre Evergreen Park, and WHOSE CHORUS LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, ComedySportz, at the TurnAround Theatre. Who could have guessed that all those 50s and 60s experiments in mixing theater with the frontiers of psychology–group therapy, encounter groups, psychodrama–would have resulted in a show as safe and essentially harmless as the 1975 Broadway hit A Chorus Line? Then again, who could have guessed that a play about a bunch of dancers auditioning for a part in an unnamed musical and talking about their lives would have become a hit musical?

Watching A Chorus Line today, I don’t get what audiences saw in the show. Marvin Hamlisch’s music is cloying, Edward Kleban’s lyrics are bland and cliche-ridden, and Michael Bennett’s functional choreography can’t hold a candle to Bob Fosse’s. I suspect that the parts of the book I liked best–the quick gags–were written by Neil Simon (who worked on the show but received no credit and no royalties).

Still, the characters are interesting, at least as they’ve been re-created by Marc Robin and his tight ensemble. And the restaging by Robin and choreographer Rudy Hogenmiller to fit Drury Lane’s in-the-round stage is much more visually dynamic than the original police-lineup approach used in the Broadway production.

Those craving theater with a little more risk and bite might want to try the fully improvised musical the folks at ComedySportz put on every Thursday. What makes this show exceptional is not the premise–every improv troupe at one time or another has improvised a musical. What makes this band of improvisers, directed by Lori McClain, stand out is how well they play together as a team. No one hotdogged, no one hogged the stage, no one pooh-poohed anyone else’s idea.

Most impressive, though, were the strong story and musical numbers the ensemble created: on the night I attended, the story involved two star-crossed lovers from rival mob families. These guys are clearly having a blast onstage, and the excitement is infectious.

–Jack Helbig