A Chorus Line has a unique development history, as it stemmed from Broadway "gypsies" (dancers) recording their life stories, and these then being shaped into a musical, with Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in lower Manhattan providing, for 15 months, rehearsal space, and costumes, and special reduced-rate Equity (union) contracts. The Public Theatre's off-Broadway production sold out immediately, with great advance "buzz", and the musical moved to Broadway in July, 1975 to become, after 15 years and 6,137 performances, Broadway's then longest running musical. It garnered nine Tony awards.
As would be expected from its origin, this is very much a dance musical, with dynamic dancing, some solo but mostly ensemble, but the songs soar as well, as they are rich in emotion, and can deliver energetic drive or plaintive involvement. The lyrics can be witty or heart-breaking., and the book (storyline) delivers on suspense, and an arc that builds to a powerful denouement. In short, the original production did everything right, and the TUTS production continues the dream.
Set on a bare stage, many dancers are auditioning for a Broadway musical, which will need just four men and four women. Some dancers are cut early, leaving 17 to continue the audition process, run by the director and choreographer Zack (Martin Harvey) and his assistant Larry (Rob Flebbe). The opening ensemble dance number 'I Hope I Get It" is simply wonderful, and its force and energy let us know immediately that something special is afoot, launching the show into the stratosphere.
Zach asks the dancers to describe their lives, and these are gripping indeed. There are too many standout numbers and performers to describe them all, but some show-stoppers follow. Kristen Paulicelli is Val, and she delivers "Dance Ten, Looks Three" with an admirable vivacity, confidence, and lilting bounce. Val believes in cosmetic enhancement, and the song's second title is "Tits and Ass". Jordan Fife Hunt is Paul, whose journey from effeminacy to manhood is charted in more detail than the others, and he nails the role, finding the truth in the telling.
Logan Keslar is Buffalo-born Bobby, who finds all the humor and adds some of his own about growing up gay in Buffalo, "where suicide is redundant". Alissa LaVergne is Sheila, experienced, sassy and wise, and she delivers in spades. Jessica Lee Goldyn is Cassie, getting back in the chorus after some solo turns and a sojourn in Hollywood -she dances beautifully and made me understand in "The Music and the Mirror" why doing what one loves is the most important thing in the world.
As a married couple auditioning together, Julia Krohn is delightful as Kristine, a ditzy, largely inarticulate dancer, and Mike Cannon as her supportive husband Al is warm and ebullient - we see the love. Jolina Javier as the diminutive Connie is charmingly pragmatic. Harvey as director Zach finds the authority and the urgency, and is a great dancer himself, though his British birth leads him pronounce "dancing: as "doncing". Zach and Cassie have a history together, adding a minor subplot.
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In the original production, Michael Bennett put all this together, producing, directing and choreographing, the latter with Bob Avian. Marvin Hamlisch wrote the inspired music, Edward Kleban the terse, telling lyrics, and James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante the book, based on the tape-recorded narrations. The TUTS production is directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton, with long links to A Chorus Line. She was the original inspiration for Val, and performed the role on B'way and in London, and she has kept the creative genius alive. There were a very few minor technical flubs the performance I attended, too minor to interfere with having the time of my life.
This is a musical which clicks on all cylinders, providing a strong narrative, melodies that linger, witty lyrics, and an overwhelming, heart-rending look at humanity itself, with its all-too-human flaws and its indomitable spirit. It is an experience to be treasured.
A Chorus Line continues through July 21 at 8:15 pm, from TUTS (Theatre Under The Stars), at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. Admission is free. For information or ticketing, call 281-373-3386 or contact www.milleroutdooorheatre.com.