Friday, September 12, 2014

5th Ave's " A Chorus Line" a singular sensation

The company of A Chorus Line (Mark Kitaoka)
A Chorus Line
The 5th Avenue Theatre
through September 28, 2014

A Chorus Line opened at the 5th Avenue Theatre last night with a powerhouse cast, a brilliant orchestra, and an overall terrific presentation. They have taken the time and effort to secure the "bible" of the Michael Bennett original choreography, as lovingly translated through original cast member Kerry Casserly. So, it all feels very "original."

If you've never seen the show, this is a great time to go see it on stage. You can feel the energy from the very beginning, with all the dance hopefuls massed on stage, going through their choreographic auditions and singing, "I Hope I Get It." If you have a young person who aspires to a Broadway career, this is a very instructive musical, even though it's supposed to be 1975. If you think much has changed in the audition process, you'd be very mistaken.

Each of the auditioners gets to tell a story, some of which become songs. The original musical was even developed with the help of real actors, a number of whom became originators of their roles on Broadway.

That is one of the reasons this musical has been so popular and performed in so many places. It can result in some very unfortunate productions because it's actually a tricky show to produce. It looks deceptively simple. But sometimes simple is quite difficult to achieve well.

This production does it well. I have to say that the orchestra, under the direction of W. Brent Sawyer, felt completely integrated into the show. The orchestra functions in many ways as a rehearsal pianist would at an audition, and with his apparently hyper-attention to the performers on stage, the orchestral timing was perfect. There is usually a wonderful orchestra playing the 5th shows, but this just felt a skosh more great.

Director David Bennett (no relation to Michael) generally handles the pacing and the movement terrifically. Once in a while, there is a bit of over-staging, with too many set adjustments (even for a spare set with mostly only mirrors or no mirrors and a bunch of spotlighting). 

There are a couple of actor-imports, with the welcome addition of Chryssie Whitehead (a standout in Damn Yankees last year at the 5th), and some newcomers who are local and welcome new additions to the 5th stage, like Richard Peacock, a recent graduate from Cornish College. Also, regulars like Sarah Rose Davis and Gabriel Corey, and of course Greg McCormick Allen

Both Allen and Taryn Darr (and a couple of others) reprised their participation from a production of A Chorus Line over ten years ago. Darr even does the same role, Val, (the "tits and ass" song) and brought down the house. You'll have to hurry to see her do the role before she flies away and Meaghan Foy takes over the role.... Though everyone is expecting Foy to bring it just as hard.

Other standouts from a great evening include Kristine (Mallory King) and Al (Paul Flanagan) with their rendition of "Sing" and the trio for "At the Ballet" (Trina Mills, Sarah Rose Davis, and Taylor Niemeyer). Charlie Johnson as Bobby and Momoko Sugai as Connie were also particularly effective.

Do note that this production has chosen to run without an intermission (an individual production decision) and you'll want to make sure you can sit that long (about 2 hours 10 minutes). Not being on time may also mean a 20-minute "hold" before ushers can seat you, and if you leave your seat, you may be subject to a long "hold" again. 

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