SHOWING : August 04, 2011 - September 04, 2011
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Friday, August 26, 2011 ||
Two years ago, I had some faint praise for a new touring company of “A Chorus Line.” Although I loved its energy, its story and its music, I found fault with a few wrinkles the past few decades have thrown into the story.|
Now, Aurora Theatre has mounted its own production, and, I am pleased that this time, all my nitpicking reservations have been dispatched by a razzmatazz high-kicking production that brings back everything that made it such a popular favorite way back when.
Before discussing the merits of this cast and production, let me plagiarize my own review from the 2009 tour.
During the seventies (I was in my twenties, then), I’d seen “A Chorus Line” about a half dozen times, loving it every time. Even though I trip over all my left feet every time I try to dance, I still saw it as “my” story – a young person’s story of drive, of ambition, of finding that muse that gives meaning to life.
Now that I’m in my (late) fifties, a different muse, a different drive gets me through the day, but I still can’t help but find a place of affection for this piece. Indeed, Aurora’s production is the first time I’ve seen it in a comparatively intimate venue (touring houses and Broadway’s Shubert are notoriously cavernous and distancing), and it puts an old (but new) veneer on everything. By old, I mean that the play was developed in the intimate setting of New York’s Public Theatre. By new, I mean that I’ve never seen it this way, where I could see (almost smell) the dancers’ sweat and feel every thump of their feet hitting the floorboards. (An interesting digression – the AJC’s review of this production was muted at best, but the critic admitted to seeing it from an upper corner of the balcony – I wonder how far back this intimate “in your lap dance” feel was effective!)
So, what about my previous quibbles? The opening number no longer feels too long -- a lot of personality sparks keep the dancers from having that same-old same-old faceless quality the tour had, giving them an individuality not seen before. The cast still seems too 70’s politically correct (each cast member represents a single particular cultural/ethnic combination), but now, it just helps establish the period (which, not coincidentally, also makes the almost quaint attitudes towards homosexuality work). The pseudo-suspense of “who will be cast” no longer seems to be an issue, because, frankly, the show always was more about “how did we get here” than “who will win,” (**) and any suspense is necessarily contrived and arbitrary. Okay, the adolescence number (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen”) still seems long, but now, it gradually builds momentum to a frenzied climax, so it doesn’t seem TOO long. After all, most of these characters are less than a decade out of adolescence, so it makes sense that all those angst-filled years are still very much on their minds.
As before, any quibbles pale in comparison to everything that still works. The youthful drive and energy of the cast (were any of them even alive when the show first opened?), the confessions that strike at the heart at choosing a necessarily short-term career in dance, the bits of candor that ring true even now, the air of hopeful desperation and half-expected rejection. I still love the simplistic stagecraft, the mirrors that multiply the cast into infinity, the faceless final number that drives home the point that these are NOT the stars of tomorrow. And I still love the climactic “What would you do if you can’t dance?” scene, a dramatic high point that ties the show together and underscores that these kids are in it because they have no other choice – they can’t NOT dance.
The choreography by Jen MacQueen recalls the original without slavishly imitating it, and contains enough subtlety and newness that, for me, it was fresh and alive. And Ann-Carol Pence’s musical direction is up to (perhaps beyond) her usual high bar of excellence – these are 19 voices that blend beautifully and soar individually without being overpowered by the very seventies-sounding orchestra.
It was also a pleasure seeing familiar local faces inhabiting these characters without slavishly mimicking those who’ve played them before. I was especially impressed by Courtney Godwin’s Val, Leslie Bellair’s Connie, Kelly Schmidt’s Maggie, Angela Harris’ Kristine, Marissa Druzbanski’s Diana, Pamela Gold’s Cassie, and David Rossetti’s Paul. It may be unfair singling out these few, because everyone had their moments to shine, even the “extras” cut after the first number. When they all high-kick their way into anonymous synchronization, it’s sheer joy to watch.
So, exactly how have the decades changed me and my perception of this show? Well, the “Things I do for Love” have definitely suffered some “scope creep.” The acquisition of family (and mortgage) have rearranged my priorities, and there’s little I cannot NOT do (seeing plays and writing about them being the obvious exception). Rather than identifying with these characters as I did in my twenties, I now look at them with nostalgia, with an older person’s sense of “I wish I could find that passion again.” The irony inherent in that statement, of course, is, that if we are suitably passionate about anything, we rarely see it as “passion” – just as part of who we really are.
To fall back on a critic’s cliché, “A Chorus Line” is still a “Singular Sensation” and this production is singularly sensational. In spite of a few passing-decades-stress-cracks, it can still high-kick its way into your heart. It is a young person’s show that brought back to life the young person I still believe I am.
A final digression -- the AJC also commented that too many of the cast looked “out of shape.” All I can say is, looks or not, any group that can perform this aggressively energetic choreography while having the stamina (and breath) to belt out these numbers with this quality, are in much better shape than I could ever hope to be.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
** Wouldn’t an interesting twist be to alter the ending so a different eight are chosen each performance? The cast wouldn’t know if they were being “cast,” the audience would have its expectations ripped akimbo, and the long final walk into position would actually have some real suspense. Just a thought.
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Up-Close and Personal|
Monday, August 15, 2011 ||
"A Chorus Line" has never been one of my favorite musicals. The premise of a dance audition requiring soul-baring from the auditionees has always seemed contrived to me. When it's performed in a cavernous auditorium, the singing and dancing can be enjoyed, but the individuality of the performers can't truly be appreciated. At the relatively small Aurora Theatre, though, the individuality can come shining through. |
That's not to say that the individuality is as clear and focused as it could be. The only person I repeatedly found my eyes drifting to was Caroline Freedlund, in the relatively minor role of Bebe. Bebe is one of the youngest and most inexperienced of the dancers, and Ms. Freedlund's reactions often were of wide-eyed innocence being exposed to unpleasant, adult truths. These reactions amplified the content of the show, helping the audience determine their own reactions.
The score of "A Chorus Line" is its strongest element, and Aurora Theatre's production lets the score come shining through. The singing has a bit too many scooped notes, from multiple members of the cast, but the songs all work. "Sing!" is one of the highlights, with Angela Harris (as Kristine) sing-speaking her lines while the mellifluous voice of Nick Morrett (as her husband Al) fills in the notes at the ends of each line.
There's not much to the plot. Cassie (Pamela Gold) has had featured dance roles on Broadway, but is now responding to a cattle call audition for a chorus role. Her former lover is the director, Zach (played authoritatively by Anthony Rodriguez). Will he give her a chance to restart her career? Which four guys and four girls will be hired for the chorus line? We care what happens with Cassie, who is affectingly portrayed by Ms. Gold, but the rest is a series of vignettes and monologues (sung or spoken) describing various aspects of a dancer's life.
The set, by Britt Hultgren Ramroop, is the standard "A Chorus Line" set of a bare stage backed by revolving scenic sections, mirrored on one side. The revolves and lighting work as expected in the show, but don't impress as anything out of the ordinary. Costumes are mostly streetwear, except for the lame glittery gold lamé of the finale. The closeness of the actors actually harms the effect here, for the inadequacies of the pull-on costumes are all too evident.
The ending of the show doesn't ring particularly true in this production, because the dancers chosen from the audition include plump fireplug Marissa Druzbanski (Diana) and similarly shaped Anthony Owen (Bobby) alongside the sleek Pamela Gold (Cassie) and shapely Courtney Godwin (Val). Part of the idea of the show is the fickleness of selection in the dancing business, so the apparently random choice of the "winners" doesn't violate anything of importance in the show. All the "losers" have been given nearly as much stage time, so the audience cares about them just as much.
Meredith Campbell, as Sheila, may not make the final cut, but she makes the most of her sardonic role. David Rossetti, playing Paul San Marco, wrings the most out of his extended monologue before leaving due to supposed injury. He shows none of the effeminancy his speech makes note of, but his emotions ring true. He has the svelte, long lines of a dancer, which is mostly missing in the rest of the male cast.
Director Anne Towns and choreographer Jen MacQueen have done a good job of keeping the show moving. This is an intermissionless musical, but it is as long as many two-act musicals. The pace does not let the momentum stop. Aurora's production may not be an iconic production of "A Chorus Line," but it's an entertaining show that lets the audience experience James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante's book to the accompaniment of Marvin Hamlisch & Edward Kleban's iconic score. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Challenging show done pretty well|
Saturday, August 13, 2011 ||
(revised 8/13 to add review title and to increase rating)|
Wonderful job! Not perfect but we really enjoyed it.
First off, huge kudos to Aurora for taking on such a challenging show. How nice to see something that has not been done over and over locally (that’s right MUSIC MAN and SPELLING BEE . . . I’m talking to you). My husband had actually never seen the show and his first comment was how it was great to hear the familiar songs in context of the overall story.
Next, Aurora is a really great theater space. I’ve said it before . . . I really prefer true theaters built for the purpose of performing. Not to take away from the many great local companies that have carved out homes elsewhere, but this kind of show could only work where the production level is really high (yep, Aurora pulls out all the technical stops). The sets and lighting were terrific. Costumes really accented the show well (despite the previously reviewed ill fitting plaid pants).
Overall the cast was good and I applaud the hard work they all put in. Everyone on the stage poured their heart and soul into their roles. There were some great voices, some great actors and some great dancers. With that said . . . there weren’t really any real triple threats. The women fared better then the men. We really enjoyed Sheila (Meredith Campbell), Connie (Leslie Bellair), Cassie (Pamela Gold) and Val (Courtney Godwin). All had great moments to shine. For the men, top honors go to Aurora Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez as Zach. He was a perfect puppet master of sorts. Also liked Terry Guest as Richie (tons of energy and fun).
The overall production is really great. Take the drive out to Lawrenceville! You’ll be glad you did.
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"A Chorus Line" slightly out of step - AJC|
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 ||
"A Chorus Line" slightly out of step|
By Bert Osborne
For the Atlanta Journal Constitution
11:40 a.m. Monday, August 8, 2011
As though it weren’t enough of a sign that one of the characters arrives for a Broadway dance audition wearing a hideous pair of plaid pants, the landmark 1975 musical “A Chorus Line” (originally conceived by Michael Bennett) already feels like a relic from some bygone era, at least in certain respects.
When a dancer in the story sustains a serious injury, nobody whips out an iPhone and dials 911; instead, someone darts offstage to phone a doctor about making a “house call.” And what may have been a startling revelation 36 years ago – that a lot of “chorus boys” might be gay – seems clichéd by now and overemphasized on top of that, with three different characters delivering monologues on the subject.
From a production standpoint, however, “A Chorus Line” remains a daunting assignment, which likely explains why it’s rather rarely done. (I can’t recall another local production of it in the last 20 years.) Whatever the end results, one thing to be said for the folks at Aurora Theatre is that they’ve never been known to deny the courage of their convictions.
Chief among the show’s challenges is that it requires no less than 18 strong dancers. If they can sing and act as well, so much the better, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case in director Anne Towns’ Aurora ensemble. Make no mistake. The dancing, choreographed by Jen MacQueen, is largely impressive. It’s the singing and acting that routinely stumbles.
The script by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante follows the process of elimination during a “cattle call” audition, where a director named Zach (appropriately played by Aurora artistic producer Anthony Rodriguez) is casting the chorus for an upcoming musical. Wanting to learn what kind of people they are – not just what kind of dancers – he gives each of them moments to tell their own stories.
But too many of the characters are interchangeable or extraneous and too many of the performances lack distinction and definition. Unlike with the well-drawn contestants from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” say, we don’t have as much of a vested interest here in which ones make the cut or which ones don’t.
Acting honors go to David Rossetti (as Paul, the least flamboyant of the gays) and Meredith Campbell (as the cynical Sheila). It would have been nice to see more of Leslie Bellair (as the diminutive Connie) and Greg Kamp (as the innocent Mark), both of whose scenes are shortchanged by a recurring “montage” number.
Among the memorable songs (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban), highlights include Marissa Druzbanski’s solo “What I Did for Love” and the Nick Morrett-Angela Harris duet “Sing.”
In the dancing department, Pamela Gold (as Cassie, a fallen diva and Zach’s former flame) is most convincing. For all their right moves and even from a back corner of the balcony, some of the others look a bit old – and more than a few of them out of shape, frankly – to be truly believed as Broadway hoofers.
To borrow the title of another tune in the show, “Dance: 10; Looks: 3,” indeed. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Familiar Music, Unfamiliar Presentation|
Monday, August 8, 2011 ||
I caught "A Chorus Line", the 1975 tale of 20 or so would-be dancers/singers "putting it all on the line" for gig in the chorus of a New York Musical on Broadway, at the Aurora Theater last evening.|
I have been listening to the music since the original Broadway opening, and have loved it over the years, but never got the chance to actually see the musical, as it is rarely ever performed, what with the very challenging cast requirements. You have to have quite a few quality combination actor/dancer/singer-types to pull this baby off, something the Aurora has done very well in this instance.
Zach, played very authoritatively by Aurora Theater Producing Artistic Director Anthony Rodriguez, sets the tone of the show right off, and pretty much becomes the "voice of God", reverberating strongly throughout the show, much of the time standing just behind the audience in the seats, while barking out orders and questions to the try-outs. Perhaps, a little less of this Drill Sargent delivery is in order when he and Cassie discuss their situation one on one....
Shelia, played very nicely by Meredeth Campbell, quickly becomes one of the crowd favorites, with many funny lines, a very strong stage presence, as well as one of the finer singing voices. "At the Ballet" being her showcase.
Each of the auditioners, one by one, take their turn in revealing a part of them selves in a hope THE part will become theirs...
Val, cheekily played by Courtney Godwin, gets the famous "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three", and has the crowd eating out of her hands with the risque number. I saw a few patrons heading for the exits after this tune....(this is still Georgia...)
Cassie, played very professionally by Pamela Gold, does a great job of acting/dancing/singing during her solo in "The Music and Mirror". She really appears to be the person she is playing.
Paul, played by the strongest male performer David Rossetti, is another high point of the show.
Diana, played by top company singer Marissa Druzbanski, really pulled the emotion out of the crowd, with both "Nothing" and the show's highlight song, "What I did for Love". By the time this song comes around, the crowd has become quite empathic with the characters, as performed by the cast, and emotions were running high, lotsa sobs around me.....
Marissa has a beautiful and quality tone, and really knows how to sell a tune. She should have quite the future in musical theater. Her singing was like butta....
For "One" (Reprise), everybody comes out in gold lame' wardrobe show suits, and does their "big number", but some of the wardrobe fitting was not good (pants down in the back, etc.... This kind of thing takes you out of the show, and the "magic' is lost, so lets be more careful with that type of thing...
'Go see it!
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