BWW Reviews: Surflight's Singular Sensation
It seems right that Surflight Theatre closes it's 2014 summer season with A CHORUS LINE. After 65 years as a New Jersey theatrical institution, Surflight must have hosted hundreds of such auditions, giving that first 'big break' to scores of performers. The 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical was the brainchild of Michael Bennett, who created the show to turn the spotlight on the hopes and dreams of Broadway gypsies - dancers who spend their careers going from musical to musical. Before the show became one of the most successful musicals of all time, it started as a series of interviews with New York dancers. One of those dancers was Mitzi Hamilton. She actually joined the group at their second session due to the fact that she was recovering from breast augmentation surgery. Those familiar with A CHORUS LINE might rightly guess that her story became the model for Val, the tart and sassy young dancer who sings about the advantages of increasing her prospects by maximizing her 'assets'. To close the summer with style, Surflight wisely sought out Hamilton, who in recent years has staged various productions of the show across the country.
A CHORUS LINE is not as much about dance as it is about dancers. Ironically, although Bennett's masterpiece deals with hoofers, the show itself requires performers to be triple threats - singing, dancing - and most importantly - acting. Hamilton's goal is to honor the Bennett legacy by concentrating on the characters who made it so compelling in the first place. Toward that aim she succeeds brilliantly. Each of the line's hopefuls are vividly portrayed by a cast of talented young performers. One of the early 'concept' musicals, the audition / confessional format allows each to step forward and share intimate stories, most embedded in a wonderful score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban. Some are funny, some are poignant - but under Hamilton's sure hand all are passionately told.
Naturally, considering Hamilton's involvement, Kara Krichman's Val is a stand-out. She struts around the stage showing off her new purchases but barely hiding the insecure girl beneath. A Jersey girl, Krichman hails from nearby Point Pleasant and is surely headed for a bright future - just as so many Surflight alumni have done. The entire cast more than capably fills out the mold left by the show's original actors. In standout moments, Alissa LaVergne's Sheila is delightfully imperious and not afraid to show her disdain for the less-than-conventional audition. Also a standout, Jena VanElslander makes great use of a storyline about Cassie's previous relationship with choreographer Zach (Grant Thomas Zabielski). Spitfire Gabriella Sorrentino is a dynamic Diana, ably leading the anthemic "What I Did for Love" as well as her funny back story song about an acting class where she felt "Nothing."
There's great chemistry between the show's only married characters, Kristine (Christina Laschuk) and Al (Michael Pilato). She handles the difficult task of playing a tone-deaf dancer perfectly. From the National Tour of A CHORUS LINE, Kevin Curtis is a diminutive dynamo as Richie. There are also some wonderful character moments from Judy (Brittany Santos) and Maggie (Amelia Miller). The male dancers seem to carry some of the show's more dramatic moments. Paul has the longest, most touching monologue and handsome young Alexander Andy Cruz handles it beautifully. Bobby (Brian Martin) also digs deep to get the role - mixing his tale of woe with generous amounts of humor. Hamilton's guidance is apparent throughout.
If the director makes one miss-step (pardon the pun), it might be her loyalty to the idea of presenting the show without an intermission, as it was originally staged. In the ensuing 40 years, audience's tastes and (regrettably) attention spans have changed. Clocking in at 130 minutes of solid sit time seems a bit much to ask of Suflight patrons - many already fatigued by a day battling surf and sun. A mid-point break - however contrary to the original concept - would go a long way toward the overall enjoyment of what is certainly a most heartfelt production.
A CHORUS LINE plays through September 14th at Suflight Theatre, 201 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, New Jersey. For tickets or information, call (609) 492-9477 or visit www.surflight.org