Saturday, April 20, 2019

What They Do For Love: In Fine Porchlight Production, 'A Chorus Line' Remains a Singular Sensation -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

A Chorus Line
Porchlight Music Theatre
at the Ruth Page Center, Chicago
Thru May 31

In terms of my ability to sing, dance and act, I'm a triple the general public.

As opposed to an early song in A Chorus Line, I can't do that.

So I have enormous regard for anyone with the talent and chutzpah to perform onstage, whether in a park district production, a Chicago storefront, on Broadway or anywhere else.

A Chorus Line, one of the most unique Broadway musicals ever created--a singular sensation if you will, originally running for 6,137 performances after opening in 1975--incisively focuses on the lives of performers.

Derived from interviews conducted at workshop sessions in 1974, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante Jr., music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, the show--initially directed by Michael Bennett--tells the story of dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical, or rather, it lets them tell their own stories.

Photo credit on all: Michael Courier
In trying out for "the chorus line," the dancers are not stars, typically lacking singing and acting skills as formidable as their footwork.

Yet, they are gifted enough to appear on Broadway--for many auditioners, this isn't their first show--the mecca of musical theater.

This imprecise calibration of being really good yet not absolutely phenomenal is why the current, mostly non-Equity production by Porchlight works so well.

I don't mean this as a backhanded compliment; this isn't merely a good try, it's an impressive, professional production that works well in the intimate, longstanding Ruth Page Center auditorium.

But that you believe these are talented, hopeful kids--for the most part--rather than big-name stars is the point of the show.

And much of the joy.

Chicagoland musical vet Richard Strimer plays Zach, the director of the show being cast. He's good, though largely as an unseen voice.

And while I've prolifically attended area musicals for 20 years, he's the only actor in this Chorus Line that I've knowingly seen before.

But director Brenda Didier--who also helmed a stellar Billy Elliot for Porchlight--clearly did a fine job in finding talented performers (some still in college) who well-fit their roles.

Apologies for not naming every performer or song--there really aren't that many of the latter in a 2-hour show without an intermission--but if you arrive at A Chorus Line uninitiated, know that you are getting a quite credible rendition, one you may even perceive as incredible.

Anchoring two major songs as Diana Morales--"Nothing" and "What I Did for Love"--Adrienne Velasco-Storrs does a nice job, as do Erica Evans (as Sheila), Liz Conway (Bebe) and Aalon Smith (Maggie) on the the excellent "At the Ballet."

Alejandro Fonseca (Paul), Terrell Armstrong (Richie) and Laura Savage (Maggie) are also impressive, the latter on an extended dance solo in "The Music and the Mirror."

Part of my fondness for Chorus Line goes back to being taken to a first national tour stop in Chicago in 1978, meaning that before the age of 10 my parents were fine with me hearing its frank discussions about homosexuality, hard-ons and songs about "tits and ass."

Here, in the form of "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," the latter is well-handled by Natalie Welch as Val.

And a few rows from a stage filled with attractive people in tight dancewear, forgive my eyes for gladly beholding Taylor Lane (as Val), among others.

As I recently noted in a review of Hands on a Hardbody, musicals that take turns focusing on several individuals can be tricky for their lack of leading roles and narrative balance, but A Chorus Line the standard bearer in this regard.

Not only does it remain truly original in introducing theater goers to theater artists, the stories the dancers share--about which I've intentionally been circumspect--are truly compelling.

And the songs by Hamlisch & Kleban are first-rate, including the glorious showstopper, "One."

Perhaps intentionally, perhaps unimportantly, a few of the vocal timbres in this production aren't perfect, and some of the dancers didn't blow me away.

But I hadn't seen a local production of A Chorus Line since 2012--and that was out in Aurora--so this was truly a delight on many levels.

Any fan of musical theater--and any practitioner of it--owes it to themselves to see this show; one of the best, most important, most singular ever created.

And this is as good a chance as any.

Kudos to the cast, crew and everyone involved for doing what they do...for love. 

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