Chicago Theater Review: A CHORUS LINE (Porchlight)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 14, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Now 44 years old, which means that a third generation of hoofers is now recreating it, A Chorus Line remains the late Michael Bennett’s breakthrough backstage musical, winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In this show before a show, the parts — 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway outing — outweigh the whole. That greater good is an imaginary musical where, as the hoofers swagger in Bob Kuhn’s gold lamé suits against massive mirrors, their Broadway fantasies come true. But by then we know what they did for love.

Most musicals are examples of art imitating life. Not so A Chorus Line. This hymn to Broadway’s dancing “gypsies,” its book created by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, fascinates because its constantly young cast insures that this show is a textbook case of life imitating art imitating life. (Actors in 2019 who could be the grandchildren of the 1975 cast are creating the 1975 creation that was itself inspired by the reality of 1975 dancers.)

The recessed mirrors in Porchlight Music Theatre’s revival perfectly symbolize the backstage “pre-show” nature of this unconventional depiction of the creation of a very conventional Broadway musical. (Remember: The finale, “One Singular Sensation,” is really intended as a backup to a star of the Streisand, Verdon or Ann Miller persuasion. A Chorus Line may be all about dance but the “outside” musical that they’re creating is not.)

It’s ironic that, after we get to know the “dance gypsies” chosen from the 24 who endure this grueling try-out, the survivors get swallowed up in “One,” this massive finale where what counts is the lockstep anonymity of a kick line. The humanity that went into the song-confessionals, where the auditioners testified to the resilience, sexiness, escapism and transience of their trade, yields to the conformity of interchangeable parts. This “one singular sensation” is American individuality feeding American efficiency. Another all-too-American quality, at least at this stage of the recession, is the desperation — “I really need this job” — that surges through “God, I Hope I Get It.”

Before that chorus/assembly line closes ranks, we’ve felt the full diversity of the dancers, as preserved from interviews that Bennett did with the original actors. It’s ironic that the current dancers may have their own stories but they’re in effect prisoners of the musical’s now-distant past. (You could almost call this An Assembly Line.)

In Brenda Didier’s devoted reprise of this not so retro musical, Porchlight’s ensemble solidly replays the life stories of the originals, slinking and strutting their way through Bennett’s pizzazz-packed choreography (here reimagined by Christopher Chase Carter) and tearing into Marvin Hamlisch’s sturdy score, with “keeping it real” lyrics by Edward Kleban. This barebones dance studio puts all the focus on the invigorating vitality of pure motion, with the mirrors suggesting more dancers than the cast itself. We’re seeing memories as much as moments here.

Fleshing out showbiz stereotypes with true-life immediacy, Matthew Weidenbener Aguilar relishes the effortless bravura of “I Can Do That” and Adrienne Velasco-Storrs belts out the tough-girl wisdom of “What I Did for Love.” As Sheila, the aging but indomitable siren, Erica Evans purges her past in “At the Ballet,” while Natalie Welch reinvents Val’s surgical saga in “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.”

In the one unsung solo, Alejandro Fonseca digs heartache from Paul’s tale of a gay dancer unexpectedly accepted by his family. Registering the full joy of moving fast, buffed-up La Mar Brown is a blurry revelation.

As he shapes the audition with God-like omniscience, veteran showman Richard Strimer brings easy authority to confessor-choreographer Zach, though his soap-opera showdown with Cassie, his old flame, seems perfunctory — but by then we probably need a break from the rehearsals as much as the dancers. Undeterred, Laura Savage throws herself into “The Music and the Mirror,” Cassie’s tour-de-force dance sequence. It’s the dance equivalent of the equally self-lacerating “Mama’s Turn” in Gypsy.

First and always, Porchlight’s high-kicking revival confirms the continuing cause for its docu-tribute: Bennett’s high-strutting, soul-stirring dances are a perfect match for the aspirations this musical will always extol.

photos by Michael Courier

A Chorus Line
Porchlight Music Theatre
Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8;
Sun at 2 & 6; Thurs at 1:30 (May 9 & 16)
(check for schedule changes)
ends on May 26 EXTENDED to May 31, 2019
for tickets, call 773.777.9884 or visit Porchlight

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