BWW Review: A CHORUS LINE at Playhouse On Park
There's a reason A CHORUS LINE, the hit musical about seventeen dancers auditioning for a Broadway show played for 6,137 performances in its original run. Audiences simply connected with these people and their experiences - with the universal feeling of wanting something so bad you can taste it, and with the fascination of seeing the blood, sweat and tears that go into casting a production. This connection, this fascination and this joy is absolutely apparent on the Playhouse on Park stage in their season 7 closing production of A CHORUS LINE.
The show, which takes place in 1975 focuses on an audition for an upcoming Broadway show. The dancers on stage show off their dance skills (modern, ballet, tap) but unexpectedly find themselves being asked to talk about their lives. Who they are, why they dance, their greatest fears and joys. This gives the audience not only a rare peek into the creative process, but also into the real people that inhabit those smiling faces dancing in the back on the line.
So much is worth commenting on in this show. First, huge kudos to directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller for staging what is typically done on an empty proscenium stage in their black box space. I had my doubts coming into the show how it might work, but believe me it works beautifully. Hats off to Ms. Zoller (and Assistant Choreographer Spencer Pond) as well for the brilliant choreography that feels inherently seventies, but modern at the same time. I am still amazed at how they pulled off such large and complex dance numbers in such a small space. The iconic numbers felt fresh, yet beautifully familiar and were executed well by the talented young cast.
And speaking of the cast, what a b rilliant group of performers. The actors embraced their characters and made their struggles and joys truly believable, which, in an intimate space, is not always easy. While A CHORUS LINE is one of the true "ensemble" musicals, and this ensemble, as a whole, was absolutely fantastic, there were a few standouts worthy of note for me. First, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie shines in her featured number "The Music and the Mirror", displaying some of the most emotional and intense dancing of the evening. Alex Polzun pulls off some amazing acrobatics in his early number "I Can Do That." The "At the Ballet" trio of Tracey Mellon (Sheila), Kayla Starr Bryan (Bebe) and Sarah Kozlow (Maggie) provided subtle yet beautiful harmonies in a number that always gets to me emotionally, and last night was no exception. Jeremy Seiner as Al showed off an extremely beautiful and strong voice (I only wished there were more chances to hear him sing!) And, Andee Buccheri's Val delivered "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three" with energy and polish.
The music, led by Emmett Drake and Michael Morris provides the perfect balance of sound, especially for a small eight-piece orchestra. They nail the seventies flair of the piece and when coupled with the high-energy dance numbers creates a sense of palpable excitement.
As I mentioned before, the staging works quite well, and part of that is due to Christopher Hoyt's strategic placement of mirrors. Beyond the rotating mirrors at the back of the stage (which worked to great effect), the mirrors above the stage gave the audience a continuous focal point and the ability to see the action from multiple angles. The lighting by Christopher Bell added to the effect, conveying warm tones that helped place the piece in its proper time period. Finally, Lisa Steier's costumes are perfect snapshots of the high-waisted and colorful seventies.
Speaking of the seventies, worth noting is that the lobby of the theater has been transformed into the perfect replica of a seventies living room, complete with ash trays, macramé and a turntable spinning the latest tunes. Hats off to the creative team that added that little touch, as it set the audience in the mood before even entering the theater.
All in all, Playhouse on Park has once again shown how brilliantly they can take a classic, powerhouse musical and deliver it in their own unique but ultimately satisfying way. The show runs two hours without an intermission but you are so immersed in these stories, so engrossed in these characters that you blink and it's over - A true testament to the quality of the production and all involved. A CHORUS LINE is a love letter to the theater and to those dancers who occupy the usually anonymous line and Playhouse on Park has taken great care to ensure this classic musical is done right and done well. It truly is one singular sensation!
A CHORUS LINE runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through July 31. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Top Photo - Credit - Meredith Atkinson: Ben Cooley as Don, Sarah Kozlow as Maggie, Alex Polzun as Mike, Rina Maejima as Connie, Max Weinstein as Gregory, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie, Tracey Mellon as Sheila, Peej Mele as Bobby, Kayla Starr Bryan as Bebe, Tracy Mellon as Sheila, Cara Rashkin as Judy, Ronnie Bowman as Richie, Jeremy Seiner as Al, Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, Andee Buccheri as Val, Jared Starkey as Mark, Tino Ardiente as Paul
Mid Photo - Credit - Meredith Atkinson: Rina Maejima as Connie, Ronnie Bowman as Richie, Kayla Starr Bryan as Bebe, Alex Polzun as Mike, Tracey Mellon as Sheila, Jared Starkey as Mark, Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, Peej Mele as Bobby, Sarah Kozlow as Maggie, Max Weinstein as Gregory, Bobbi Barricella as Diana, Jeremy Seiner as Al, Cara Rashkin as Judy, Ben Cooley as Don, Andee Buccheri as Val, Tino Ardiente as Paul, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie, Spencer Pond as Larry
Bottom Photo - Credit - Rich Wagner: Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, Andee Buccheri as Val, Kayla Starr Bryan as Bebe, Jeremy Seiner as Al, Spencer Pond as Larry, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie, Bobbi Barricella as Diana, Jared Starkey as Mark, Ben Cooley as Don, Eric S. Robertson as Zach, Tino Ardiente as Paul