BWW Reviews: A CHORUS LINE is Still a Hit, Despite Uneven Casting
A Chorus Line is the 1975 Broadway musical that gives audiences an inside look at what it's like to be a dancer. The action of the play takes place at a single audition in which 17 dancers all vie for a spot in a new Broadway show. Throughout the course of the evening we learn about the dancers; their personalities, their pasts, and most importantly what has shaped them into the performers they are today. When A Chorus Line opened in 1975 it was met with an outpouring of positive press, and wound up taking home 9 Tony Awards including Best Musical and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for drama. This show has it all; an exciting score, explosive dancing, and a ton of heart. It's no wonder that it ran in NYC for a total of 6,137 performances (unprecedented at that time), and is beloved and highly recognized by millions.
The current national tour, which plays at the Naples Philharmonic today for only two performances, reminds us of why A Chorus Line was and is still today such a sensation. With subject matter far ahead of its time, and the use of dance and monologues to tell a simple yet profound story, it evokes feelings within us that are raw and all-together visceral. The fact that this incredibly young and not altogether cohesive cast can still showcase this piece exceptionally well is a testament to the source material itself.
While A Chorus Line remains a wonderful night at the theatre, this touring company is definitely not what I would consider a dream cast. While A Chorus Line does call for a predominantly young cast of dancers, it also calls for a range of actors with different life experiences and ages to help create a fully balanced representation of the working actor. This cast is made up almost entirely of young 20-somethings that all seem fresh out of school and on their first professional jobs. Without the scripted range of ages, it does strip away a bit of the show's heart. For instance; there is something sad and honest about the fact that a young girl just graduating from college can be in the same line-up with a Broadway veteran. They are both just as unemployed and just as desperate for the job.
Caley Crawford as Cassie is woefully miscast as the once successful solo dancer who is back to hopefully take a job in the chorus. Crawford pours her all into "The Music and the Mirror", but ultimately comes up short. Watching a pretty young girl dancing a very pretty dance for five minutes is just that; pretty. Watching a middle aged woman desperately try to prove that she still has value and worth in this business is heartbreaking and exhilarating. It's this desperation that can't be taught. It's something that only a truly seasoned performer who has endured years and years of inevitable rejection can tap into and make us understand.
Along with Crawford are a myriad of other questionable casting choices that leaves one wondering if there just weren't enough people at the audition. Bonnie Kelly as Bebe seems lost as she wanders aimlessly through the show, and Lauren Nicole Alaimo, while an incredible dancer and gifted singer lacks the vocal power to lift "What I Did For Love" off the page and into our hearts. Jeremiah Ginn is perhaps the most puzzling as his overly angry portrayal of Zach leaves one feeling cold and disinterested in his story. If Zach starts at a 10, senselessly berating Cassie, there is unfortunately nowhere for him to go but just louder and meaner. Unfortunately this is exactly what happened, leaving me far too distanced.
To round out the uneven casting is a group of performers who turn in exceptional performances that are so far elevated from their fellow cast mates that it seems unfair to even place them together on the same stage. Bronwyn Tarboton as the sweetly quiet Maggie is sensational. Her pure voice soars in both "At The Ballet" and "Hello Twelve…", leaving goose bumps in it's wake. Simply put, Sharrod Williams is a star. His energetic, precise, uninhibited performance as Richie is a marvel. You won't be able to take your eyes off of him throughout the show and his vocal range is beyond impressive. Aisling Halpin is perfection as the straight shooting, physically enhanced Val. Val's crass dialogue juxtaposed to Halpin's overly sweet delivery provides some of the brightest moments of the play. Lastly, Eddie Gutierrez turns in a spot-on award-worthy performance as the young disenfranchised Paul. His monologue towards the end of the show will have you on The Edge of your seat with anticipation for what's to come.
Despite its missteps, this touring production of A Chorus Line is definitely worth seeing. The incredible performances definitely outweigh the weaker ones, and the story and show itself is always a winner. The tour leaves the Naples Philharmonic tonight playing only two performances in one day, so if you missed it; you missed a great show. But if you have friends scattered throughout the country tell them to look up the dates for A Chorus Line and book a ticket. They won't regret it. http://www.achorusline.com/dates.html
Up next at the Naples Philharmonic Broadway series is the incredibly fun musical Sister Act. I had the pleasure of seeing Sister Act in it's original mounting in London two years ago, and loved it so much that I saw it again when it moved to Broadway just last year. If you haven't gotten your tickets for this heaven-sent treat, get them today! Sister Act plays January 1-6, 2013.