Photo courtesy of Mind’s Eye Theatre.
A Chorus Line
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. & Nicolas Dante
Directed by Janet Morris
Music Director Ronnie Breedlove
Choreographer Alfred Dale Jones
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
A Chorus Line seems like catnip for any local company with a taste for musicals. It is a classic that has achieved iconic status in the years since its Broadway premiere in 1976; moreover, it is not only a show about show business but about the people who live for it: the gypsy dancers who show up in the hundreds for each cattle call audition, hoping to land a job in the chorus line.
But it is a dancer’s show. Many musicals can be mounted with local vocal talent and some limited choreography, but each body we encounter here must be a convincing professional dancer. That is a tough challenge for community theatre. Can you cast it, and can you schedule sufficient rehearsal time for the bravura choreography that the show demands?
So everyone wants to do it, but it ain’t easy. Janet Morris has pulled it off, and it is interesting how she wound up with a mix of familiar and new (at least to me) faces. The idea of the show’s structure is to give each of the final sixteen dancers who have survived thus far a moment in the spotlight, and Morris has cannily positioned all of her cast for best effect. Some are dancers, some are athletic enough to fake it, and a few are probably working harder than they ever have onstage to keep up, and that desperation actually feels appropriate for the show.
Mandy Kramer’s “Sing!” is a wacky read on the limitations of talent versus determination, and Holden Craig struggles a bit with the vocal on “I Can Do That” but he captures the physical exuberance of the number with a energy and some gymnastic dance moves.
“At the Ballet”, one of the signature songs from this show, is beautifully delivered by Tymika Prince, Jenny Simon Friedenberg, and Katie Kinman, a lyrical evocation of the romantic, escapist value of dance, and by extension, theatre in general. A Chorus Line’s finest moments are when it takes stock of the dreams and aspirations of these characters; it is the heart of the piece and why it has life forty years later.
This notion is given explicit voice in “The Music and the Mirror”, in which Cassie, a veteran performer who rose from the chorus line to seize an opportunity for stardom, has returned after failure in Hollywood to audition for her former lover, Zack, (Edward Adamson). Valerie Canon is perfectly cast in this role and makes the moment count with a fluid, expressive solo dance. The plot development of the past relationship with Zack seems a little jarring for a musical that prides itself on the non-traditional narrative structure, a concession to convention that threatens to weight the show down, but it is important because Cassie is the dream, and the disappointment, that lies ahead for each of these characters.
Another very strong divergence from the ensemble dynamic is Paul’s monologue, so powerfully realized by Alfred Dale Jones. Jones choreographed this production, and his work on that count is impressive, a heady blend of tradition and inventiveness that captures the strain and grueling hard work of the dancer’s experience without ever feeling as if the movement has been restricted for a company with limited skills. Yet it is as an actor that he leaves his mark on you as you leave the theatre. All of the tragedy of the piece is contained in the pain and anguish of Paul, and Jones sensitively brings the heartbreaking truth of that observation home. I knew he could move exquisitely, but his work as an actor is a revelation.
As for the singing, Peighton Radlein (another new face) claims one of the best singing voices, doing a terrific job with “Nothing” and kicking off “What I Did For Love”. Tymika Prince has distinguished herself in many shows in Louisville, but her Sheila is a total badass. Most of the company sing well enough, but Keneisha Zell’s marvelous rendition of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” struggled to overcome the volume of the music. Her phrasing and delivery seemed good, but her projection couldn’t make it past the playback. Tony Harris has real presence and moves beautifully, but I couldn’t help but wish his voice was stronger for “Gimme the Ball”.
Yet these are small notes of discontent for a show that mostly succeeds. It certainly captures all of the emotional notes that are important to the story and makes the ensemble a living, breathing, character all its own. There are so many good moments for the cast that it’s almost unfair to start singling people out since it is difficult to recognize everyone.
I should also note that the score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban stands the test of time, almost certainly one of the great musical theatre scores of recent history. A Chorus Line was considered revolutionary when it premiered, a musical without stars or conventional plot that helped shape a crucial resurgence in the musical theatre form and Broadway in general after some observers had very nearly claimed the death of the American Musical. To revisit it a generation later is to find a show that simultaneously strikes us as comforting and exciting, familiar and iconoclastic. In a word: a milestone.
Featuring: Edward Adamson, Clare Hagan, Valerie Canon, Tymika Prince, Keniesha Zell, Peighton Radlein, Charity Anderson, Mandy Kramer, Katie Kinman, Jenny Simon Friedenberg, Erin Shanahan, Olivia Martin, Courtney Glenny, Kayla Cundiff, Holden Craig, Tony Harris, Brandon Michael Fouch, Alfred Dale Jones, Shawn Franklin, Alex Hamilton, James Thompson, Jake Minton, & Brian Morris
A Chorus Line
February 16, 17, 22, 23, 24 at 7:30.
February 18 & 25 at 2:00.
Mind’s Eye Theatre Company
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.