BWW Reviews: A CHORUS LINE at Seattle Musical Theatre
For musical theaters "A Chorus Line" is pretty much the holy grail of musicals. Most people love it and it has some of the most iconic and recognizable songs and characters out there. But few theaters are brave enough to tackle it especially smaller regional or community theaters, and with good reason. You basically need an entire stage of ethnically diverse triple threats (amazing dancers, singers and actors) to pull it off. And while I don't think I saw any true triple threats at SMT's current production, I did see a few two and a halfs and a bunch of twos.
With a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban and music by Marvin Hamlisch, "A Chorus Line" is an audition. And not even an audition for a lead but for parts in the chorus of a big Broadway musical. And right from the top our field of hopefuls is narrowed down to just 17 and out of them only 8 will make it. But rather than just make them sing and dance and read lines, the veteran director Zach (Sean P O'Bannon) mines the hopefuls for stories from their past that led them to this career. That's pretty much it, but what Kirkwood, Dante, Kleban and Hamlisch did was to create some thoroughly engaging and thoughtful characters that have stood the test of time. Yes, as you can tell, I love this show. Most people do. This is why it's also such a risky show for a theater to take on as when we lovers of the show see it, we have pretty high expectations.
Director and choreographer Crystal Dawn Munkers has done an admirable job with what she could. Much of the original choreography is there (and this ain't no simple shuffle ball change) and there are some good voices among the cast but I felt she could have worked a little more on the emotional and character aspects of the show as some people brought it (but those seem to be the people inclined to naturally) while others didn't. I'd rather not dwell on the negatives of the show, but there is one glaring one that really hurt the show for me and that was O'Bannon's portrayal of Zach. I really didn't feel he conveyed the experience and maturity the part requires and if you're going to spend the majority of your time as an offstage voice (which he has to) then you need to put some inflection and emotion behind what you're saying. I really didn't get that from him and for the emotional driving force and "narrator" of the show, he needs that.
But like I said there were definitely some people who really brought it and we'll talk about them now. Christine Riippi and Brandt Sterling were adorably hilarious as Al and Christine, the young married couple one of whom just can't quite, "Sing!" Andrew Murray certainly had the dance and singing chops and his character was wonderful as Greg. I only wish he were in a part that afforded him more to do. The same could be said for Jeremy Adams as Mark who really sold the naiveté of his character while backing him up with the talent. Ryan McCabe as Bobby is always fun and funny and still manages to strut around the stage with the best of them. DeSean Halley had one of the best voices on the stage and totally sold Richie's solo in "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen". And McKenna Turner as Diana managed the iconic song "Nothing" with style.
But the two absolute stand outs for me had to be Madison Greenlund as Val and Dustyn Moir as Paul. Greenlund's character never wavered and her "Dance Ten, Looks Three" number was fun and frothy while still capturing its own story arc. And Moir's heart wrenching speech was spot on and actually made me tear up at the end. And as soon as he opened his mouth at the top of the show for his "Am I My Resume" and his silky yet powerful voice came out, I had hope for the show.
Unfortunately there are so many other iconic moments of the show that just didn't quite hit the mark. I'm not saying they were bad, just not quite all the way there yet. So for a professional production, this wasn't quite up to snuff. But for a smaller regional company, it's certainly a valiant effort.
"A Chorus Line" plays at Seattle Musical Theatre through March 4th. For tickets or information contact the SMT box office at 206-363-2809 or visit them online at www.seattlemusicaltheatre.org.
Photo credit: Jennifer El Fattal