by CHRISTINE SARKES
The Broadway classic and iconic A Chorus Line receives reverential treatment at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, with spot on, heavily local casting and fabulous triple-threat performances (dancing, singing, acting). It is worth the price of admission to remember the 1970s groundbreaking themes of coming out and coming of age in the ruthless New York theater scene, not to mention hearing songs that will play repeatedly in your head (“What I Did for Love,” “Every Little Step” and “One”). A Chorus Line opened in 1975, was directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett with music by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch. An unprecedented box office and critical hit, the musical won nine Tony Awards in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
With a few exceptions, the women gave the best performances, infusing their characters with spunk, humor and vulnerability mixed with hard-edged tenacity. The story revolves around a chorus line audition and the director Zach’s (Tom Berklund) desire to learn more about the dancers while putting them through their paces. Every dancer is desperate for work (“I Hope I Get It”) and after the first cut, 17 dancers remain. Zach tells them he is looking for a strong dancing chorus of four boys and four girls, who should embody certain personal characteristics. He wants to learn more about them, and asks the dancers to introduce themselves. The dancers reveal their pasts reluctantly and their stories generally progress chronologically from early life experiences through adulthood to the end of a career. Although the story is focused on life on stage, the themes of pursuing your dreams and finding a home among kindred spirits are universal. Story lines that were groundbreaking forty years ago, such as coming out to your family and resorting to plastic surgery to conform to show business expectations, pack slightly less an emotional punch than they did when I first saw the show but are still poignant. My favorites were Kristine’s “Sing” (Renee Guittar), Diana’s “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love” (Katrina Asmar) and Val’s “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” (Maria Briggs). Cassie’s “The Music and the Mirror” represents a go-for-broke display of dancing passion and commitment and I found Molly Tyne’s performance solid, but too tentative. My millennial companion also found the piece uncomfortably long. Male performance stand outs were Greg (Anton Harrison LeMon) and Paul (Omar Garibay).
This is the second 1970s musical reprise I’ve seen in a year (Pippin at the Orpheum Theater) and I can’t help thinking that they seem dated and in need of a fresh, innovative eye. I love the idea of paying tribute to classic Broadway musicals, but wonder if considered editing, staging and re-orchestration might make them more accessible to new audiences. The audience in attendance disagreed with me, applauding the well-loved songs and cheering for the characters as they would long lost friends.
A Chorus Line, Conceived and Originally Directed/Choreographed by Michael Bennet, Direction & Choreography by Kerry Casserly and James A. Rocco. Musical Director, Raymond Berg. Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Now through February 28 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St, Saint Paul. Tickets at http://www.ordway.org or 651-224-4222.
Ordway Extra: An Actor’s Life for Me
Wednesday, February 24 │6:30 pm, Marzitelli Foyer
Free for A Chorus Line ticket holders, Join Dieter Bierbrauer and others from the Twin Cities theater scene for a chat about the life of an actor in the Twin Cities. Guests will perform songs that hold particular meaning for them in their careers, and will share stories about life as professionals in a field that is as much a lifestyle as it is a career.