Los Angeles Theater Review: A CHORUS LINE (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on April 15, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

THE MUSICAL WITH LEGS

Musical Theatre West’s (MTW) exuberant production of A Chorus Line proves that the musical is as fresh as the day it appeared almost forty years ago, when the standard Broadway musical was already fading away, making room for the jukebox musicals and mostly hollow spectacles we are still forced to endure. The miracle of A Chorus Line is that it is a very simple tale, but encompasses themes which resonate Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Musical Theatre West’s “A Chorus Line” at Carpenter Center, Long Beachwith universality. The simple plot: On a bare stage, a director not only puts auditioning dancers through the usual grueling repetitive combos, but interviews them as well. A side story involves the director and his ex, a leading lady who needs work so badly she is willing to return to the chorus. For those who haven’t seen it, believe it or not, that’s the entire story. Yet as these distinctive performers begin to open up about their lives and how they became dancers, themes of growing up, dysfunctional families, careers, and, yes, what we do for love, mirror all of our lives, not just those who stretch before a literal mirror. Like us, those auditioning cover the gamut of race, religion, and creed. Whether gay, old, Puerto Rican, privileged, Asian, short, flat-chested, or scared, everyone is unsure of the future.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Musical Theatre West’s “A Chorus Line” at Carpenter Center, Long BeachWith a gigantic cast such as this – which has 9 Equity members alongside 18 young, bright-eyed non-Equity performers (many of whom are So Cal locals) – there are bound to be hits and misses. Surprisingly, there are a slew of fully-realized characters on stage, and enough triple-threat dancer/singer/actors to inspire you to rush out and join dance class. Others in the ensemble, whether miscast or vocally weak, may detract for a moment (or an entire song), but overall this revival will win your heart. If you bring your younger brood, this will be the show which hypnotizes them into a love for the arts, especially due to the ensemble song, “Hello Twelve,” which musicalizes the pain, joy, angst and embarrassment of adolescence better than any other musical number has to date.

Far and away, my favorite actor of the night performs one of the smallest roles: Louis A. Williams as Larry, the director’s assistant. Williams is not just magnetic and a kick-ass dancer, but captures the professionalism and discipline of one who Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Musical Theatre West’s “A Chorus Line” at Carpenter Center, Long Beachwould have such a job; he also shows a profound empathy with the auditioning dancers. Chuck Saculla is perfectly cast as the domineering director, Zach; Saculla is a bit thick in the middle and was somewhat winded after the opening number, but he can still dance up a storm; even though Zach isn’t looking for work, his own vanity and aging issues come to play when he wonders why dancers even do what they do.

Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Musical Theatre West’s “A Chorus Line” at Carpenter Center, Long BeachAlso notable: Matthew Williams successfully blends sarcasm with acerbic sincerity as the scarf-wearing Bobby, a self-aware, self-deprecating man who survived a rigid upper-class background; Daniel Switzer plays Mike, an assertive but adorable Bronx-ite who discovered tap very early on (and tells us about it in “I Can Do That”); Marco Ramos, who has the sweetest pipes, is truly funny as Mark, the youngest dancer in the group, who recalls the time he diagnosed his own appendicitis and then misdiagnosed a wet-dream as gonorrhea; Theresa Murray conjures images of old-time comediennes with a blend of endearing goofiness and realism as Kristine, who, per her own admission, just can’t “Sing!”; and Venny Carranza as Kristine’s sympathetic Italian husband Al (Carranza’s terrific work as the company’s dance captain is also evident).

Steven Rada perfectly captures the heartbreaking story of Paul, who endured his uneasy adolescence by joining a transvestite burlesque in Harlem. However, director and choreographer Roger Castellano fails to properly stage the final – and extremely important – moment of the monologue when Zach approaches Paul to comfort him; the stage picture we see robs the moment of its tear-jerking possibilities. Indeed, there Tony Frankel’s Stage and Cinema review of Musical Theatre West’s “A Chorus Line” at Carpenter Center, Long Beachare a few such noticeable moments that need polishing, but Castellano nonetheless manages to ensure that the dancing and blocking are extraordinarily tight.

Although a good actress, Chryssie Whitehead wholly lacks the spark and star power necessary for us to believe that Cassie has what it takes to be a headliner above all the other gypsies. Her long solo dance and song, “The Music and the Mirror,” feels leaden and never really takes off.

James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book (which is far too salty for the younger kids) holds up remarkably well, as do the songs of Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics). As with many revivals, the costumes and movement mimic Michael Bennett’s original version, and I wouldn’t have it any other way: It’s a tribute to that great pre-AIDS era before theater became more an entertainment conglomerate than an art form.

photos by Ken Jacques Photography

A Chorus Line
Musical Theatre West
Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013
for tickets, call 562-856-1999 x4 or visit http://www.musical.org

{ 1 comment }

Jane Thalken April 16, 2013 at 3:02 am

I had a question about another show, but ended up checking out the latest reviews, and so glad I did. This was a real pleasure to read. If I was a producer, I’d ask you to screen the shows before they opened.

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