A Chorus Line is among the best of the shows to be born after the era of the “great American musical.” It invokes the pop psychology sentiment of the 1970s without the buzz words. As such, it is wholly palatable to our over-exposed sensibilities almost four decades later.
Musical Theatre West has mounted a production that offers the popular musical, which was created by dancers for dancers, as it was originally intended, running its full two hours without an intermission. I found myself far less inconvenienced by the unusually long stretch with no break than I was impressed by the stamina of the high energy cast.
A Chorus Line has it all– a score full of numbers you may well be humming as you leave the theater, and characters that make you care about them. From the beginning the story, depicting a dance audition, generates a suspenseful angst: Who will get the job? What will those who don’t get hired do to support themselves? And what happens to the thirty-somethings among them who won’t be able to make a living as dancers much longer?
Roger Castellano directs and choreographs a spectacular roster of almost thirty dancers, at least several of whom are also terrific vocalists. Those with both skills are cast in the formidable roles where it counts– Diana (Ayme Olivo), Cassie (Chryssie Whitehead), Val (Tory Trowbridge), Maggie (Kristen Lamoureux), Mike (Daniel Switzer), Richie (Frank Keith Barber), and Al (Venny Carranza). When I heard Lamoureux sing the high part of the trio in “At the Ballet,” I fought back tears. It was just the way I felt all those years ago when Kay Cole sung the part in the original Broadway production. Wow!
As the audition unfolds, director Zach (Chuck Saculla) explains that this isn’t the usual chorus job. He needs the show’s roles to be filled with dancers exhibiting certain personality traits. Thus he requires all of the reluctant hopefuls to tell him something about themselves. What transpires is a series of stories that are sad, funny, even heartbreaking, but most of all, intensely interesting.
The well-paced show cleverly “interrupts” some of the monologues with dance numbers that take center stage as the storyteller is temporarily muted, returning us to the story in time to hear the meaningful gist.
A sub-plot presents itself in the character Cassie, once romantically involved with Zach, and who he claims is far too good for a place in the chorus. Her moving solo number “The Music and the Mirror,” demonstrates her superiorty. After convincing Zach to let her finish the audition and compete for the job, Cassie dances along with the others while Zach issues harsh commands to make her cease being a stand-out and fit in with the others. Our hearts break just a little as she brings herself down to the level of a chorus dancer in order to get herself hired.
More memorable numbers are “I Hope I Get It,” “I Can Do That,” “Sing!”, “Nothing,” “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,” “One,” and “What I Did for Love.”
Other featured cast members are Camden Gonzales, Theresa Murray, Adam Pellegrine, Steven Rada, Sherisse Springer, Momoko Sugai, and the outstanding Louis A. Williams as Zach’s assistant Larry.
I would be remiss not to mention the imperfect sound system that muffled some of the lyrics and made two or three of the voices sound strident. Fortunately, this flaw did not overwhelm the production’s other fine attributes.
This dynamic new A Chorus Line brims with fabulous group dance numbers, excellent vocals, and heart wrenching emotion. In most respects, Musical Theatre West’s production honestly rivals the original.
Musical Theatre West’s A Chorus Line continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located at 6200 E. Atherton St., on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, through April 28. Performances are Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm; Sundays at 2pm and 7pm; there is also a performance on Thursday, April 25, at 8pm. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased through the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 ext. 4 or online at musical.org .