A Chorus Line opened on Broadway on July 25, 1975 and quickly proved to be a success. The musical secured 9 Tony awards that year (including Best Musical) and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It ran for 15 years at the Shubert Theatre. Now, just over 40 years since it opened, A Chorus Line is building the same kind of buzz at the Bette Aiken Theater Arts Center. The Chance Theater Company recently extended the production’s run to August 7 to meet the overwhelming demand.
A Chorus Line has become theater rhetoric. The plot is certainly unforgettable. It tells the tale of a group of dancers auditioning for a new musical. The show opens on Director Zach (Ben Green) and Assistant Choreographer Larry (Calvin Brady) putting the dancers through their paces. Those auditioning sing about hoping to get a part while lamenting about how they really need this job. The group is whittled down to eight women and eight men, and after the iconic, and often parodied, “pictures and resume” scene, Zach throws the group for a loop. He’s looking for a tight ensemble chorus, and to cast it appropriately, he needs to know what makes each of them tick.
From this point, the Chance Theater cast really starts to shine. They unravel their characters in a collection of songs; all of them are well known to musical theater fans. Yet, the cast never disappoints. As Shelia, Bebe and Maggie respectfully, Camryn Zelinger, Ashley Arlene Nelson and Kristen Daniels prove to have golden voices as they sing about how their ballet classes allowed them to escape unhappy lives. Zelinger captures Shelia’s mature cynicism from the moment she steps on stage, and Daniels’ voice sounds even more haunting when it comes out of her meek and reserved Maggie. Additional standout performances come from newlyweds Al and Kristine (played by Joseph Ott and Emily Abeles) and Angeline Mirenda as Diana, who sings about how a high school theater teacher almost squished her acting dreams.
In addition to the talented performers, mention should be made of A Chorus Line’s small ensemble band providing the music. The musicians do a wonderful job with the ’70s funk-inspired music, making the instrumental sections just as enjoyable to listen to as the singing.
If one fault could be found, it is the production seemed too large for the small black box stage. Choreographer Hazel Clarke did a fine job of adjusting Michael Bennett and Bob Avian’s iconic and award-winning choreography, but the performers at times looked squished, especially for the larger numbers such as the opener, “Hello Twelve” and the closing number “One.” Obviously there was little the Chance Theater could do about this situation, and it is a minor distraction from an overall successful performance.
What is much more important is the fact The Chance Theater’s cast of A Chorus Line clearly understands and captures the essence of the musical, the questioning of identity and a love of performing. Also Director Oanh Nguyen made a lot of intelligent choices, which pull the musical together. It should be on your must see list for the summer since it is certainly not “One” to miss.