If you thought Glee’s Rachel Berry’s audition for acceptance into the fictitious NYADA was brutal, welcome to the bruising heartaches performers go through to snag a working part even in the chorus, where you don’t get your name in lights.

That’s the premise behind A Chorus Line, the latest musical to open in Singapore in Marina Bay Sands Theatre on May 4 after the wildly successful Wicked, which drew crowds of people when it showed in Singapore last year on December 22.

What possibly drew the 12 nominations and 9 Tony awards, not to mention the crowds for its almost 15-year run on Broadway are the stories of the performers, sometimes very private revelations they’re forced to make to impress the director, Zach, played by Rohan Brownie, better known for his role as Riff in West Side Story.

The same role, inhabited by Michael Douglas in the 1985 movie, requires no singing or dancing, even very little emoting, as he resembles the somewhat faceless shrink who teases out hidden motivations and childhood traumas of 17 wannabes for the entertainment and enlightenment of the audience.

These do his bidding reluctantly, starting with deceit or conceit, humour self-deprecating or otherwise, as they desperately want one of the 8 available roles in a musical, Zach is casting for. As he prods and probes, the masks come down and sketches of the real people behind the performers come through.

Even people who’ve never auditioned (or aspired to do so) can relate with the uncertainty, the hope and despair of waiting for an interview result, or even the outcome of an application to a school. And that is where the emotional power of this tale lies.

The character Paul San Marco (played by Euan Doidge) captures it best when singing: “Who am I anyway, am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don’t know. What does he want from me? What must I try to be? So many people all around and here we go… I need this job, Oh God I need this show.”

Most of the other songs don’t end up enjoying much airplay because of the intensely personal stories revealed. The saucy rendition by Val (played by Hayley Winch) of “Dance 10, Looks 3” tells of how superficial talent scouts are, with “tits and ass” taking priority, or the sultry “At the Ballet”, where the character Shelia (played by Debora Krizak) oozes sexuality, before breaking into song about her struggles with her family and dance, revealing her “off-stage” self.

The lack of fancy scenery or costumes is key in the musical, setting the stage as though a real audition was taking place, with the 17 dancers dressed in simple mishmash of leotards and backed by the occasional usage of mirrors and lighting – truly giving the audience the perspective of a director intent on capturing all the facets and or warts of his cast.

Stripped of all scenery, A Chorus Line is the bones of what dancers had to face, giving the audience a rare peek into their trials and difficulties, and bares the glitz and glamour of showbiz. Remove the fancy costumes, polished dance routines, and the grit behind the scenes is all that’s left, tied together with the common driving force: Ambition.

With the dancers driving the musical forward instead a very coherent plot, pacing is a little less smooth, but such vignettes probably suit the shorter attention spans of today’s viewers much better. Especially when presented through solid performances in dance and song. Rather than being dry, the different dreams that each of them have – be it a country girl who has dreams of becoming a star, or an older actress who realises she no longer can act well enough – their accurate portrayal of their characters really impresses.

With 15 musical numbers, the wide range of music is enough to satisfy very different tastes. From the upbeat and jazzy I Can Do That by Mike (James Maxfied), to the soulful self-expression of Cassie (Anita Louise Combe) in The Music And The Mirror, A Chorus Line makes you fall in love with each and every single one of the 17 dancers.

Alas, 11 dancers have to be dropped. But so many of us, already desenstised by endless rounds of elimination in American Idol, Chopper, or the many other reality TV shows, are far less emotional when this happens. Or so we thought. UrbanWire could really empathize with each failed character’s sense of disappointment –their dreams crashing and burning on an empty stage, watched by competitors. Admittedly, it was rather fun to pick a favourite dancer and desperately hope he/she would end up in the final 8.

All’s put right at the end, however, with a big song and dance routine featuring all the 17 different dancers sporting glamorously gilded clothes, a top hat, and a cane, performing One, the signature musical finale of A Chorus Line. Mirrored panels spinning around to reveal a “real” and bling performance worthy of a Broadway show back in the 1970s.

A Chorus Line was originally directed and choreographed by the late Michael Bennett. The multiple Tony Award-winner was also responsible for other Broadway hit musicals like Showgirls and Follies.

From the carefully choreographed dance routines, to the powerful vocals and gripping plot backed by raw ambition, A Chorus Line manages to defy all expectations when faced with an empty stage.