Saturday, September 06, 2003

A Chorus Line

Rockettes, eat yer heart out!

The sight of the Varsity stage filled with a kick line of gold-lamé clad men and women is not one anyone will soon forget.

The Davis Musical Theatre Company opened its production of "A Chorus Line," directed by Michael Miiller [sic] (who also plays the role of Director Zach) with choreography by Ron Cisneros on Friday night. It is "one singular sensation."

Not your stereotypical musical, "A Chorus Line" (book by James Kirwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban) not only won nine Tony Awards, it also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It was the first musical in years to win that particular award. When it closed, in April of 1990, after 15 years, it was the longest running Broadway show in history (a title eventually taken over by "Cats").

This play about dancers takes the audience through an audition process of a cattle call of a group hoping to land one of the 8 chorus slots in a Broadway show. It offers a glimpse into the individual lives of the singers/dancers who are hoping to make the final cut. Together, the grouop sings and dances, telling of their hopes and fears about whether or not they will get the job, in the opening number, "I Hope I Get It." Then, after the initial cuts have been made, each of the remaining group, in turn tells a little about themselves, under casting director Zach's probing questions, as he make his final selection. He takes no prisoners and his questions occasionally border on cruel

Receiving much of the bite of Zach's tongue is Cassie (Heather Benner), once his love interest. In "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie talks of the failure of her solo career. Roles have stop coming and she finds difficulty getting cast. She merely wants to return to her roots as a member of the chorus.

We get to know the others in the group from which the final selection will be made--Bobby (Marc Valdez), who wants to be a movie star; Mike (Colby Salmon), who tagged along after his sister to dance class and came to realize that "I can do that"; and Al and Kristine (Isaac Dailey and the delightfully ditzy Courtney Bufkin), now married and clutching each other for support. (The role of Al was played in the 1985 movie by Davis' own Tony Fields)

Maggie (Melody Davi) and Bebe (Patricia Glass), have escaped unhappy home lives by looking for solace in the theatre.

The ascerbic Sheila (a strong performance by Pamela Lourentzos) is a theatre veteran with a tough, brittle exterior hiding her own insecurities.

Likewise, Paul (Matt Dunn) has a secret he's ashamed to share. Dunn's Paul is almost painful to watch, so skillfully is the character drawn. (Paul's shameful little secret is one which dates the 1975 script. One suspects it would not be quite so shameful in 2003.)

An unlikely looking dancer is barrel-chested Richie (Marcus Mitchell) who lets us know from the first step that there is a pro at work (Mitchell has danced professionally in Finland and with the Sacramento Theatre Company)

Val (DMTC veteran Wendy Young) worried all through high school about her figure and finally found a way to turn heads. She's got it and isn't too shy to flaunt it. Her delightful "Dance 10, Looks 3" is a salute to plastic surgery.

Diana (Dena Lozano) gets to sing one of Hamlisch's prettiest (and most recognizable) tunes, "What I Did For Love" and she sings it flawlessly.

DMTC has pulled out all the stops, with a full pit band which, surprisingly, does not overwhelm the singers. Steve Isaacson has done a good job of recreating the traditional mirrored panel rotating set, with nice lighting for augmentation.

The production is not perfect, with a bit of slowness in the pacing of Act 1, a bit of polishing needed for the dazzling finale (there was a bit of confusion with a couple of the dancers about which way to turn, something I suspect will be quickly corrected), but overall, this is one of the best shows I have seen at DMTC.

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