BWW Review: A CHORUS LINE Kicks Off Roxy Regional Theatre's 37th Season In Style
Emily Rourke's Cassie is Always in Control
Opening on Broadway in the summer of 1975, A Chorus Line - the iconic musical about dancers that features music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante (gleaned from interviews with a core group of dancers assembled by director/choreographer Michael Bennett, who conceived the project) - is one of the world's most beloved works in the canon of the American musical. And some 40 years after its premiere, A Chorus Line continues to enthrall, to enlighten and to entertain.
Need proof? Now onstage at Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre, in a production that is respectful of the material and with emotions reverberating through a heart so true that one is likely to be caught up in a very particular moment in theatrical time, A Chorus Line resonates as deeply in 2019 as it did in 1975.
Granted, the Roxy Regional Theatre's production of A Chorus Line might be a little rough around the edges - not all members of the ensemble are the consummate dancers called for by the script (but rest assured every actor is thoroughly committed and sharply focused on the tasks at hand) - but it is so sincere, so loving, so authentic that it's easy to overlook any shortcomings and to revel in this resounding tribute to the creative process and to the resilience of the dancers it venerates throughout the two hours of engaging drama, pathos and humor.
Intelligently, director Ryan Bowie and choreographer Emily Rourke (who both do double-, if not triple-, duty - he designed the set and supervised costumes in addition to directing and playing Greg Gardner and she stars as struggling actress/dancer Cassie) have ensured their production's success by casting strong actors to bring the characters to life and they have staged the show with close attention to all the details that ensure A Chorus Line evokes the time in which it was created and in which the show is set. They are not slavish in their devotion to a revered work, but instead they are inspired by it and they wisely keep the play's time period intact to illuminate the struggles of dancers at a time their importance to the success of a new musical was undervalued.
In the Roxy's production, the dancers that provide the show's heart are treated with sensitivity, leavened by realism and a healthy dose of humor, to capture a very genuine feeling and to create an accessible, engaging work that audiences respond to organically - and with great enthusiasm that derives from a story well-told. Rourke's portrayal of Cassie is essential to the show's success: she's alternately vulnerable and strong, scared and brave, yet Rourke is always in control of who Cassie is and what she means in the story being told onstage. In short, she gets it (as do all the other actors involved) and the result is a genuinely moving performance that will challenge audiences to keep their visceral responses in check. Rourke's Cassie is paired with Darren Michael, who plays the show-within-a-show director/choreographer Zach, and their interactions are believable, if sometimes lacking the passion and color one might expect.
Among the other members of the ensemble, there are other noteworthy performances: Alexandra Milbrath is terrific as Val Clark ("Dance 10, Looks 3") who pretty much owns the stage when the spotlight hits her and she delivers her lines with good humor and aplomb; Maureen Duke strikes a terrific pose, her long legs perfectly beveled, as the acerbic Sheila; and Daniella De La Huerta is commanding as Diana Morales and her "What I Did For Love" is indeed impressive. But it may be Bridgette Karl, as bright-faced, wide-smiling Bebe Benzenheimer who steals the show - in even her quieter moments onstage, when she's listening to her compatriots talk about their hopes and dreams, defeats and worries, she watches with rapt attention, never breaking character and creating a characterization that will become etched in memory.
Duke, Karl and Elizabeth L. Worley (as Maggie) deliver one of the production's strongest musical numbers with their performance of "At The Ballet."
Among the men, John Tupy is good as Mike Costa, although we longed to hear the taps of his shoes in "I Can Do That"; Zach Letty shows off his dance skills with confidence (and his ease with a comedic line) as Mark Anthony; and Riley McManus is quite good as Al DeLuca, providing strong counterpoint to Emily Reeves' role of his non-signing wife Kristine ("Sing!"). Jiovanni Daniel (whom Nashville theater audiences know as Daniel Carrasquillo) comes home from his current New York City base to play the demanding role of Paul San Marco, the young gay dancer who so memorably recounts his artistic and personal journey of growth only to have his hopes dashed when his knee blows out. Daniel's heartfelt interpretation of his role results in what is perhaps the night's most emotionally draining and dramatic moment.
Rourke's choreography, inspired by the original work of Bennett and co-choreographer Bob Avian, elicits the same strong response from audience members and makes good use of the intimate confines of the Roxy Theatre, and Bowie's knowledge of how the space works in relation to his audience helps to involve them more deeply in the events that transpire onstage.
A Chorus Line. Directed by Ryan Bowie. Choreographed by Emily Rourke. Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Co-choreographed by Bob Avian. Presented by The Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. Through September 28. For more information, go to www.roxyregionaltheatre.org or call (931) 645-7699. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (with no intermission).