Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
A Chorus Line
This is a scary proposition, not only because it isn't the "normal" kind of dance audition but because it requires the performers to expose themselves emotionally in unexpected ways. They're used to looking their best, and, all of a sudden, they have to invent a character that is believable, honest, but doesn't do themselves damage in ultimately being cast. Every little step they take is monitored for proper form and technique, while their stories may "tell a different tale."
Those stories were based on the experiences of Broadway dancers recorded across the span of many late nights in the early 1970s. They're universal enough to withstand the passage of time and they were shaped into a coherent whole by writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, composer Marvin Hamlisch, and lyricist Edward Kleban, but under the huge influence of original director and choreographer Michael Bennett.
In fact, Bennett's work was so essential (and so "choreographed") that for many years directors of other productions sought only to reproduce what he had done.
Now, though, 41 years after its original opening, we're starting to see productions that don't toe the line, as it were. One of these is playing through July 31 at Chance Theater in Orange County. It's a big production in a small space that literally explodes off the stage.
The good part is the re-thinking: director Oanh Nguyen and choreographer Hazel Clarke have added some touches that make a difference. Mostly, they're small things: the cast members who are rejected at the top of the show end up sitting on either side of the stage, essentially serving as a pit chorus. When Cassie (Tatiana Alvarez), a one-time featured dancer trying to re-start her career, performs "The Music and the Mirror," Zach, who was once her boyfriend, partners her for part of it. There's a fresh feel to the "step, touch, kick, kick" numbers that Larry (Calvin Brady), the dance captain, teaches the group.
And, there are some things that don't change and probably shouldn't. Paul's (Xavier Castaneda) monologue is still heartbreaking. "What I Did for Love" is still an anthem to anyone who has ever been smitten by the theatre. The entire cast still appears, costumed (by Bradley Lock), to perform "One." The things that make audience members fall in love with A Chorus Line are in place.
The microscope is still there, though, and that can be a problem. Like watching Olympic diving or gymnastics, audiences quickly start to see small flaws that become magnified. Some in the cast are better dancers, some are better singers, some do better with acting. These differences stand out, especially when young actors are playing most of the roles, and audiences have to suspend disbelief in order to make into them Broadway-ready competitors. There is a lot of belting, resulting in uneven choral blends (even with sweetening by the pit singers and a really dynamic band, led by Ryan O'Connell).
Even worse for A Chorus Line purists, there's a curtain call. Which, I suppose, reflects a pretty major cultural difference between 1975 and today.
It's a big mountain to climb.
Maybe I'm being too tough here. For what it is, this version of A Chorus Line is pretty darn good. I hope that audience members seeing it for the first time will fall in love with it, but I think there's a better-than-even chance that they won't. Maybe think, "It's pretty interesting; so-and-so was really good," but not fall in love.
Chance Theater's A Chorus Line performs Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm, through July 31, 2016, at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA 92807. Tickets available by calling (888) 455-4212 or visiting www.ChanceTheater.com.
Cast includes Ben Green, Ashley Arlene Nelson, Victoria Rafael, Camryn Zelinger, Dannielle Green, Angeline Mirenda, Tina Nguyen, Joseph Ott, John Wells III, Monika Pena, John Wells, Tatiana Alvarez, Emily Abeles, Ben Heustess, Christopher Mosley, Xavier Castaneda, Brandon Carter, Kristen Daniels, Robbie Lundegard, Garrett Engle, Calvin Brady, Carolyn Lupin, Liz Williams-Borud, Damon Williams and Dustin Nguyen.
Production credits include Fred Kinney, scenic design, and Martha Carter, lighting design.