Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review of "A Chorus Line"

When A Chorus Line opened 40 years ago it changed the musical theater landscape.  Never had dancers, the gypsies of Broadway productions, been given such a prominent role front and center.  The show became a cultural phenomenon, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical and was, at one point, the longest running musical in Broadway history.  Sound familiar?  Hint:  a current show about an American President.

Playhouse-on-Park’s current production of A Chorus Line, which plays through July 31st, is a superb, energetic mounting of the show.  The two hour, intermission-less musical is powerful and emotional, the dancing dynamic, and the score lively and tuneful.

The storyline is simple.  A large group of dancers are in a small, cramped studio auditioning for a few cherished spots in the chorus of a new Broadway musical.  The dance captain, Larry, and director/choreography Zach put the men and women through a number of routines as they begin the arduous winnowing process.  Eventually, 17 individuals are chosen before one final cut.  Zach, forceful, demanding, yet understanding of the personal and physical rigors involved with trying out for a show then asks each of the remaining candidates to talk about themselves, which they do through words, song, and dance.  Slowly, we learn their back stories and begin to care and silently root for favorites.  Finally, after much work, sweat, and heartbreak eight members of the original grouping are chosen.  Their dreams fulfilled.

The book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante strips the show of the artifice and razz-ma-tazz of a large-scale Broadway musical and, instead, focuses on the private stories of the actors and actresses to drive the plot.   Their tales come across as genuine, humorous, and heartbreaking.  The performer’s hopes and desires are so real and rich in detail because the librettists, along with original director/choreographer Michael Bennett, based the character’s lives on the real stories of chorus line dancers.  

The score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, while rooted in the 1970’s, doesn’t sound dated.  It can be playful (“I Can Do That”), high impact (“I Hope I Get It”), and poignant (“Nothing”).  Every song is a gem.  Hamlisch also shows his composing prowess by providing the driving, high-powered music for the extended “The Music and the Mirror” dance number.

The acting troupe comes across as a true ensemble effort.  Yes, certain actors stand out and are given more of a star turn (Michelle Pruiett as Cassie and Bobbi Barricella as Diana), but not one performer dominates the show.  It would be unfair to single out just a few because everyone has done such an admirable job subsuming themselves within their character.

Directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller are in perfect sync with the actors and actresses.  They effectively use the small Playhouse space to show the intimate and claustrophobic nature of the rehearsal studio.  They successfully balance the pathos of the impassioned personal narratives with the funny and tender moments of the production.  Acting sequences seamlessly segue into individual and group dance numbers, which heightens and expands upon the actor’s disclosures.

Zoller, doubling as choreographer, incorporates a number of dance styles into the production including ballet, jazz, and tap.  She uses the individual and large dance routines as a way for character self-expression and to communicate their freedom of body and soul.  By the musical’s conclusion the disparate parts of the ensemble meld into a well-oiled unit, culminating into the thrilling finale.

The eight piece pit band, under the musical direction of Emmett Drake and Michael Morris, does an outstanding job as they play almost non-stop throughout the production.

A Chorus Line, an entertaining classic not to be missed, at Playhouse-on-Park through July 31st.

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