BWW Review: A CHORUS LINE Razzle Dazzles At TUTS!
A CHORUS LINE has been part of Broadway's fabric since the summer of 1975 when it debuted at the Shubert Theatre. It is the seventh longest running Broadway show in history, and has one of the most recognizable Great White Way numbers at its climax. Forty-four years later THEATRE UNDER THE STARS has decided to remount one of America's favorite musicals to kick off it's fifty first season. They couldn't have picked a better show, and it's dazzling to see this take on it.
A CHORUS LINE is a jewel of musical theater history, one of those shows everybody should become familiar with if they are passionate about theater. The music is composed by Marvin Hamlisch and the lyrics authored by Edward Kleban. The book was written by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante from stories told by actual Broadway dancers. The original director and co-choreographer was the legendary Michael Bennett who was assisted by Bob Avian. The production's credits are a who's who of the mid 70s theater and dance world.
The show's narrative is straightforward in that we are watching an audition of seventeen dancers as they vie for a part in the chorus of a big Broadway show. You have a uniquely interesting melange of grizzled vets and fresh faced kids all fighting and scrapping just so they get a chance to become one with each other in a singular line. A place where their personalities, quirks, and aspirations evaporate into precision choreography. They are struggling to be noticed so that they can ultimately be not noticed in a glitzy show. It's the irony that they are artists who have to become a synchronized faceless unit in the end.
Few theaters tackle A CHORUS LINE, because to do so you need a strong ensemble who can sing, act, and dance like there is no tomorrow. It is a show reserved only for true triple threat performers who can belt and twirl for two hours straight with no break or respite. The cast performing on the TUTS stage is top-notch. Every single actor is leaving everything out there, and we feel their passion seep out into this production. The show has no set save for mirrors in the back, and it is costumed simply in 70s era dance wear. The dancers are the show, and there is nothing for them to fall back on. They are dazzling! Director Julie Kramer and choreographer Jessica Hartman have stayed true to the 1975 vision, but also managed to make it more energetic and faster paced. The dancers often seem to defy gravity and levitate during numbers, and it's all gorgeously staged and executed.
Sarah Bowden stands out as Cassie, the experienced dancer who is an ex of the director casting the show. Her arc includes trying to overcome his perception she is too much of a star to be in the chorus, and Bowden makes the audience believe that with an impressive dance vocabulary and pitch perfect belting voice for her big number. She is every inch the main attraction. As the counterpoint to Cassie's earnestness, Paige Faure turns in a marvelously realized Sheila. She's the right blend of sarcastic and yet perfectly sincere when it comes to rendering "At the Ballet".Faure's comedic timing is spot on the entire night. The most moving acting performance comes from Eddie Gutierrez who portrays Paul - a gay Puerto Rican man who had a rough transition into his adult life. His monologue which comes after Cassie's big solo had the audience applauding his simple choice of honest delivery and crack dramatic timing. Another poignant performance is delivered by Samantha Marisol Gershman who carries the finale number "What I Did For Love". On the flip side Logan Keslar, Tiffany Chalothorn, and Celia Mei Rubin all bring amazing comedy chops as the dancer's with the funniest stories to relay to the audience. Honestly I could zip down the cast list and praise each performance - they are all solid and wonderful as an ensemble.
On the technical end there are no glitches in this show. Michael Gilliam's light design is a wonder of intimate moments and then stun worthy big cues that add drama in every scene. Ryan McGettigan's set is sparse throughout most of the evening, but eventually reveals an over the top glamour that almost got its own applause at its appearance. Michael Horsley has found the right sound to keep true to the original and yet update the delivery to make it palatable to younger audiences.
What struck me the most as I sat in the Hobby Center looking at A CHORUS LINE is how well it holds up today. The show mentions a lot of 70s pop culture, and the setting and clothes are definitely suitable of that era. Yet somehow it still feels progressive. This is a world where half the men are unapologetically gay, racial diversity is not an issue, and women are on par with the men. The show is about having passion for what you do, and artists are so lucky to have that in spades when they chose the performing arts for a living. These are brave people who have brave stories, and you can't help but love them and their struggles as the show climaxes with a razzle dazzle Vegas sized chorus number. You see how the world is a beautiful tapestry of people simply chasing a dream, and that is the simple power of A CHORUS LINE.
This TUTS production is a love letter to the heritage of A CHORUS LINE, and it's a show that I can't recommend strongly enough. This is what the company does best - resurrect a classic and make it vibrant for audiences who either want to revisit or experience a show for the first time. This one is perfect - an amazing cast, outstanding design, and execution on every level that satisfies a love for this art.
A CHORUS LINE plays at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts through September 22nd. It is a two hour show that is performed without intermission. Tickets and further information can be found at the TUTS web site at https://www.tuts.com/ . You can also reach their box office by phone at (713) 558-8887.