Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Chorus Line

Theater in the round may not be the ideal way to present Michael Bennett’s 9 time Tony award winning, “A Chorus Line,” now at the Music Circus, under the direction of Stafford Arima.

That is not to say that this production was not spectacular.  The opening number alone will leave the most robust in the audience panting from the sheer athleticism of a stage full of dancers leaping, twisting turning and dancing their hearts out.

For those now old enough to see the show (it opened in 1975, so it is quite likely that it is now playing to a whole new generation, unfamiliar with it), this is a two hour audition for eight roles in a show that is being cast by director Zach (Eric Sciotto) a mostly disembodied voice giving the dancers directions.  Zach appears on stage from time to time, but his part is mostly unseen.

Throughout the audition each of the finalists (some in the opening number dancers are eliminated after that number) tells his or her story, sings and/or dances and “really hopes I get this job.”

While the singers and dancers are for the most part outstanding, one problem with doing this in the round with a sound system where every voice comes from center stage, whether the performer is on stage or in the aisles of the Wells Fargo Pavillion is you are often busy trying to find out who is speaking and where the speaker actually is standing, and so a lot of the intimacy of a proscenium stage is lost.  By the end of the show, there are few actors with whom you have an invested relationship.

The circular stage is also difficult for the more intimate scenes when, of necessity, half of the audience watches the action from the back.  The character of Paul (Xavier Cano) may be one of the more emotional of the cast and the last time I saw this show he brought me to tears, but since I witnessed his entire interaction with Zach from behind him, it didn’t have the same impact. Cano gave it his all and was one of the few for whom I felt a twinge later in the show, but I didn’t get a chance to love him the way I wanted to.

At the end of the show, when Diana (Selina Michelle Verastigui) sings “What I did for Love” you should feel in your gut what all dedicated, talented performers really go through for their art, because you have watched it all throughout the show, but again, with not much invested in their lives it becomes an emotional song, which Verastigui puts all of her heart and soul into, but it doesn’t have the impact it might have had if we knew the performers better.

The biggest disappointment, however is the finale.  A Chorus Line is known for the crisp choreography of dancers standing in front of a mirror wall, their numbers growing, as the rest of the cast joins them for the iconic “One”

It is impossible to use a mirror on the Music Circus stage and while the dancing is crisp and impeccable and the circle dancing, escalating in speed breathtaking, the impact just can’t be the same as it is on a proscenium stage.  Adding lots of lighting helps, but I missed that grand finale.  This was just a good finale.

However, with those caveats of a cranky old critic (I’m sure most of the enthusiastic audience never gave them a thought), the performances were outstanding.  Cassie (Kate Levering, a veteran of more than 15 Music Circus shows), a one time rising “star” now unable to get a job and wanting to start over again in the chorus was desperate and poignant, trying to get past her former relationship with Zach and just get a job. 

Jennifer Foote is Sheila, an aging chorine with a chip on her shoulder hiding the sadness of her childhood.  She joins Juliane Godfrey (Bebe), Chelsea Morgan Stock (Maggie) in singing the poignant “At the Ballet,” which describes how dancing saved them.

Allison Blair McDowell mops up the stage as Val, whose looks prevented her from getting jobs until she found a unique way to solve the problem.  Her song is always an audience favorite.

Nick Varricchio makes an impression as Mike, telling about his start in dancing, by literally stepping into his sister’s shoes.

Newlyweds Kristine (Katie Huff) and Al (Adam Fleming) are funny, trying to explain Judy’s problem with vocal pitch.

This production is definitely an audience pleaser, and, my own personal disappointments aside, should be a big hit for Music Circus.

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