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A Chorus Line: A Carbon Copy in the Digital Age

A Chorus Line

Conceived and originally choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett; book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban; originally co-choreographed by Bob Avian; scenic designer, Robin Wagner; costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge; lighting design by Tharon Musser, adapted by Natasha Katz; sound design by Acme Sound Parters; music supervision by Patrick Vacariello; music direction by John C. O'Neill; orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, Bill Byers and Hershy Kay; vocal arrangements by Don Pippin; choreography re-staged by Baayork Lee; directed by Bob Avian

Cast:

Mike, Clyde Alves; Roy, Venny Carranza; Larry, John Carroll; Sheila, Emily Fletcher; Judy, Stephanie Gibson; Zach, Michael Gruber; Val, Natalie Elise Hall; Don, Derek Hanson; Maggie, Hollie Howard; Mark, Jay Armstrong Johnson; Vicki, Julie Kotarides; Greg, Denis Lambert; Kristine, Jessica Latshaw; Bobby, Ian Liberto; Tricia, Stephanie Martignetti; Lois, Sterling Masters; Bebe, Pilar Millhollen; Al, Colt Prattes; Diana, Gabrielle Ruiz; Tom, Clifton Samuels; Paul, Kevin Santos; Cassie, Nikki Snelson; Frank, Brandon Tyler; Richie, Anthony Wayne; Butch, J.R. Whittington; Connie, Jessica Wu

Performances: Now through October 5, Boston Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, Mass.
Box Office: The Colonial Theatre Box Office, 106 Boylston St., Boston or through Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787 or www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com/boston

The touring production of the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line - in Boston at the Opera House through October 5 - tries very hard to recapture the magic the original record breaker created. It resurrects all the iconic images - the character-defining costumes, the idiosyncratic poses, the metaphorical white line running across the floor, the evocative lighting, the stunning mirrors, and Michael Bennett's singular direction and choreography. What it doesn't have that is so essential to make it soar, however, is a heart palpably worn on its sleeve.

Still set in 1975 but rife with contemporary street energy and attitude, this A Chorus Line is more shadow than substance. Director Bob Avian and choreographer Baayork Lee, both key forces in shaping the landmark Tony Award-winning version more than 30 years ago, seem to have slavishly reproduced staging and movements but neglected to mine the honesty within each actor. Much of the dialog and many of the musical numbers seem perfunctory rather than organic, and the too-similar hard edge that several of the characters - Sheila, Val, Greg, Bobby and Diana, most notably - share feels oddly anachronistic and indistinguishable.

As the aging and aggressive chorine Sheila, Emily Fletcher is appropriately sexual and sarcastic, but the desperation beneath the defenses isn't evident. Her "At the Ballet" sung with BeBe (Pilar Millhollen) and Maggie (Hollie Howard) is neither heartbreaking nor hopeful. We feel none of the trio's collective pain as they sing of childhood loss and rejection, nor do we feel any of their confidence and joy as they find beauty in front of the studio mirror. Also disappointing is Diana's "What I Did for Love." The spunk and passion that she (Gabrielle Ruiz) successfully brings to "Nothing" earlier in the show is missing at the all-important climax.

Nikki Snelson, on the other hand, acquits herself quite well as Cassie. Her "The Music and the Mirror" is danced with energy, grace, fluidity, and very strong technique. There's no doubt that her Cassie is a dancer who stands head and shoulders above the crowd, but there's also no doubt that, having been out of work for two years, she is willing to dance like everyone else in order to get this job in the chorus.

As Paul, the shy Puerto Rican who'd rather forget his past as a "pony" in a drag show, Kevin Santos is sensitive and endearing. Natalie Elise Hall as the physically enhanced Val is sassy and savvy in "Dance 10, Looks Three," and Clyde Alves as the tough-talking Italian kid whose sister's place he took in dance class gives an athletic shine as Mike to "I Can Do That."

As the highly successful director/choreographer Zach (modeled after Michael Bennett himself), Michael Gruber dances well but doesn't come across as particularly driven or enthusiastic. It's Zach who must up the stakes for these dancers, prodding them and at times frightening them to put everything on the line. Gruber's even-keeled detachment sets a mellow rather than pressured tone for the company, thus robbing his wannabes of the sense that they are fighting for their lives.

Like a faded copy of a copy that retains the outline but not the detail, this second generation A Chorus Line is but a ghost of the original. Even the gold-clad reprise of "One" at the end lacks the crisp precision and exuberance you'd expect from a group of ecstatic winners. Without a sense of urgency, ardor, or unselfconscious optimism, this production of A Chorus Line left me feeling nothing.

PHOTOS BY Paul Kolnik: Nikki Snelson as Cassie; Gabrielle Ruiz as Diana; Kevin Santos as Paul; Company of A Chorus Line


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From This Author Jan Nargi