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Friday, 29 March 2013 22:58

'A Chorus Line' lights up the stage at The Peabody Opera House

Written by Robert Mitchell
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'A Chorus Line' lights up the stage at The Peabody Opera House

It's kind of amazing that although I owned the Original Broadway cast recording of "A Chorus Line" as soon as it came out (when I was 15), am well acquainted with the script and the story (by James Kirkwood and Joe Dante), and know each number of the score (by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban) inside and out, I had somehow never managed to see a live production of it.

I'm not sure if I was afraid that it would never live up to the A Chorus Line that has kicked around in my brain since 1975, or what... Lord knows, I was not a fan of the 1985 film adaptation... yuck...except, of course, for Janet Jones' and Audrey Landers' performances. (Hey, I was a growing, red-blooded male!)

So when American Theatre International recently brought a National Touring Company of the show to the Peabody Opera House, I decided to pull up my big-boy pants, and brave a production... fully prepared with a big bag of tomatoes to toss, if it didn't live up to the dream play in my head.

Luckily, the production was helmed by Baayork Lee, who originated the role of Connie in the Michael Bennett Broadway production (and an acclaimed director now, in her own right). She, of anybody, would probably know what A Chorus Line was about, because she was there.

Unless you have been holed up in a cave, you probably know the story: a group of 24 Broadway hoofers, novice and veteran alike, are battling it out for the last eight spaces to be cast in a major Great White Way production. In between dizzying choreography sessions, the kinda grumpy director, Zach, decides that instead of cold readings to determine who will get these bits roles in the show, he'd like to hold impromptu therapy session, to figure what makes each dancer tick. (Thank God directors have for the most part given up these kind of shenanigans.) As each dancer pours his or her heart out, we learn that for most chorines, life is pretty hard. Zach is kinda pissy that his ex-starlet ex-girlfriend is auditioning, because he feels she's too good for the chorus. But life has been hard for her, too. When one of the boys injures himself during a routine, Zach and each dancer has to ponder: What do you do when you can't dance anymore?

The entire cast were extremely lovely, accomplished and hardworking dancers, and each, in their turn, deserved the rounds of applause they received at shows' end. But, of course, there were leads, and standout characters that deserve special mention.

Jeremiah Ginn as the director Zach was stern and surly, but touching when it appeared that his dancers were really hurt, emotionally or physically. He also showed that he could dance as well as any member of the chorus (which, from what I understand, is not always the case).

Brooke Morrison was diva personified as mature dancer Sheila, all sexy assuredness and raised eyebrows. Alexander Cruz, as Paul, delivered the most gut-wrenching monologue, and you could hear a pin drop in the audience as he relayed the story of how his parents found out he was a drag queen. Ashley Klinger received a great round of applause when her character, Kristine, was from St. Louis, Missouree. Laura Nicole Alaimo as Diana has two “big” numbers in the show (“Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”), and handled both with aplomb. Bigtime standout was, of course, Caley Crawford as Cassie. At first, I was a little put off, because Ms. Crawford didn't look like “Cassie” (played by Donna Mackechnie on Broadway and Alyson Reed in the film) to me, but her very strong acting, and awesome dancing soon convinced me otherwise. Zach is right; she does deserve to be a star.

Since, the set is minimal (an empty Broadway stage), except for some mirrors and a really nice backdrop for the final number – the story is mainly told through lighting, and our dancers' bodies; and the lighting by Natasha Katz served them extremely well.

In short, all my fears were allayed, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first, and maybe not last, production of "A Chorus Line".

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