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Review: 'Every Little Step' Is Perfection In The Argyle Theatre's A CHORUS LINE

The production runs from February 1st - March 24th, 2024.

By: Feb. 19, 2024
Review: 'Every Little Step' Is Perfection In The Argyle Theatre's  A CHORUS LINE  Image
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When I was a kid, I remember seeing the 1985 film version of A Chorus Line and thinking it was terrible. I’ve also seen numerous school productions of A Chorus Line and they were sub-par. Overall, my experience with A Chorus Line has been negative. That was until I saw The Argyle Theatre’s production of the concept musical last week.

A concept musical is a show that doesn’t follow a linear narrative plot. Instead these shows focus on a theme which is evoked through a fragmented storyline. Sondheim was the true master of concept musicals. In the 1970’s, Sondheim came out with two back-to-back concept musicals, Company and Follies. Both of these shows were choreographed by the legendary Michael Bennett, the leading force behind A Chorus Line. I’m sure Bennett’s time working on Company and Follies was an inspiration for A Chorus Line, especially the latter show. Bennett had a clear concept for his show.  He wanted to highlight honesty to combat the apathy of the Watergate hearings. He also wanted to showcase the lives of Broadway dancers or as they are called the gypsies. As Clive Barnes once said, the gypsies are “those dear, tough, soft-bitten Broadway show dancers who are the salt and the Earth of the great white way.” To make the dream become a reality, Bennett recorded over 30 hours of interviews with numerous dancers. Then called in dancer turned playwright Nicholas Dante and actor turned playwright James Kirkwood to construct the book. To punch up the book with some great one-liners, Bennett had Neil Simon do some uncredited script doctoring. For the score, Bennett enlisted Marvin Hamlisch (who earned PEGOT status with this show) to write the music and Edward Kleban to write the lyrics. Hamlisch and Kleban wrote a great score that truly catered to the dancers and storyline; Eydie Gorme’s version of “What I Did for Love” is still the best though.

Was Bennett and the creative team successful? I’d say so. A Chorus Line won 9 Tony Awards including Best Musical, became the 7th longest running show in Broadway history with 6, 137 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. So, why didn’t the film and school productions I’ve seen work? They stepped away from the original book. A Chorus Line is not just a show about dancers. It’s a show about how anyone will do anything, even put themselves “on the line”, to get the dream job they long for, whether you are new and upcoming or older and looking for one last shot. The dancers are a metaphor. They’re athletes trying to make the team. They’re businessmen and women trying to get that next promotion. They’re high school kids trying the land their first job so they can save up for a car. Who can’t relate to that? In addition to this relatable theme, A Chorus Line was the first musical to bring visibility to LGBTQIA+ stories. It was also a show that provided voice to performers of color, which at that time in 1975 was not commonly done. By highlighting and featuring these minorities, it broadened the show’s universal appeal. The school productions I’ve seen altered these storyline which resulted in the show losing a lot of its impact. Keep in mind, the school productions I saw predated the recent revisions made by original cast member Baayork Lee in 2016; I hope the revised edition provides even more opportunities for inclusion. The film adaptation decided to take a left turn and focus more on the love story between Zach and Cassie, not to mention omit songs and change the story structure, which was so unnecessary. When you are putting on a production of A Chorus Line, you have to keep it exactly as it is. It’s a period piece for a reason. The Argyle Theatre’s production does just that and pays homage to the original.

Having show veterans at the helm definitely helps. The 2006 Broadway revival was directed/co-choreographed by Bob Avian (original production’s co-choreographer) and co-choreographed by Baayork Lee (original production’s Connie). At The Argyle, the production is co-directed by Evan Pappas and choreographed/co-directed by Francine Espiritu. Pappas joined the original touring company of A Chorus Line for 1 and ½ years, then joined the Broadway company for 5 years in various roles. Pappas states that “Every character in this show is like an old friend and this multi-talented cast have made coming to rehearsal like coming home for me each and every day.” It’s thanks to Pappas’s excelsior direction that you as the audience feel right at home too. Francine Espiritu credits Baayork Lee as her inspiration. She first met Lee working for her non-profit organization National Asian Artists Project. Espiritu learned the show from Lee then served as the Dance Captain for the 2018 national tour in the US and Japan. She was also involved with the NY City Center Encores production in 2018. Espiritu’s choreography is on point and definitely does Lee and Michael Bennett proud. At times you really think the cast can defy gravity; each number is flawless.

The scenic design by Steven Velasquez is simple yet highly effective. I loved the black wall upstage that would transform into a mirror wall; it looked like vertical blinds opening and closing. John Salutz’s lighting design was cinematic. The blackness of the set and Salutz’s perfect lighting allowed each character to standout when presenting their backstory.

Pappas and Espiritu compiled a multi-talented cast that all deserve recognition, hence why I must list each one by name: Taylor Aragon as Bebe, Wesley Cappiello as Don, Joshua Prince Credle as Butch, Jenny Dalrymple as Maggie, Mia Davidson as Kristine, Caroline Eby as Val, Matt Gibson as Zach, Marvin Gonzalez as Tom, Sophie Hardy as Judy, Peter Hughes as Larry, Elias Husgafvel as Mark, Andrew Burton Kelley as Al, Madeline Kendall as Connie, Shannan Lydon as Tricia, Zoe Marin-Larson as Diana Morales, Jojo Minasi as Roy, Rebecca Murillo as Lois, Jay Owens as Richie, Lexie Plath as Cassie, Matthew Ranaudo as Bobby, Brett Rawlings as Greg, Yamil Rivera as Paul, Mario Rizzi as Mike, Emily Lynn Thomas as Vicki, Emma Vielbig as Sheila and Cullen Zeno as Frank.

Some standouts performances for me included: Zoe Marin-Larson as Diana; her voice will knock you out. Caroline Eby was fantastically funny as Val. Mario Rizzi made “I Can Do That” a standout number. Yamil Rivera will break your heart as Paul; his acting is truly phenomenal. Lastly, Peter Fogel’s costumes were apropos for the show and the costumes for the finale was a perfect homage to original costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge. The finale’s costumes really provided a homogeneity to the chorus line. You could tell the audience wanted to clap louder for certain performers, but couldn’t because they had a hard time distinguishing one cast member from the other. With the costume choice and lack of official bows, the show truly encapsulates Bennett’s vision of what a dancer’s life is truly like. Bravo Argyle Theatre, Bravo!

View photos from the production here.

You can purchase tickets to see A Chorus Line through March 24 here.


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