‘A Chorus Line’ is the back story

Company of 'A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)
Company of ‘A Chorus Line (Richard Strimer as Zach) center) at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Michael Courier photo)

4 stars

Not sure how many times I’ve seen ‘A Chorus Line,” but director Brenda Didier and choreographer Chris Carter’s version now at Porchlight Music Theatre, is not a copy.

It goes back to director Michael Bennett’s concept to present the story behind who are the dancers/singers in a musical’s chorus line.

He was interested in why do they want to be in a chorus line, when did they decide they wanted to dance as a career, what happens if they are accepted or not when they audition and finally, what will they do after they no longer can dance. In January 1974, he now famously asked a group of dancers to talk about themselves and if he could record it. Their responses make up the show.

With book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, Bennett’s concept musical won nine Tony Awards in 1975 and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976. Bennett co-choreographed the production with Bob Avian.

The clue to Porchlight’s production is the Pulitzer Prize drama award.

The dance routines are fascinating as each person seems to have different styles and capabilities. And the music is memorable. However, as Porchlight’s two-hour production moves along, audiences will grasp that each of the young dancers on stage likely has a story that could be the basis for separate plays.

Porchlight’s new venue, a theater space in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, is basically a black box that enhances, rather than distracts from the dramas told on stage.

(in spotlight) Adrienne Storrs as Diana Morales sings "What I Did for Love" in 'A chorus Line' at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo by Michael Courier)
(in spotlight) Adrienne Storrs as Diana Morales sings “What I Did for Love” in ‘A chorus Line’ at Porchlight Music Theatre. (Photo by Michael Courier)

It becomes the right backdrop as Richard Strimer as Zach, the director/choreographer conducting the audition, is relentless in uncovering the dancers’ stories.

But he has a compassionate side that is witnessed when Paul San Marco, brilliantly portrayed by Alejandro Fonseca, tells about his growing-up years.

Zach has his own story that interferes with one of the dancer’s audition. He doesn’t want  Cassie Ferguson, his former lover and a chorus line dancer he thought was a star, to be auditioning.

Laura Savage portrays a desperate-for-work Cassie who demonstrates her ability to dance during a remarkable solo-turn on stage.

The fun part of the show are such terrific songs as the signature “One” (singular sensation), sung by the company as they blend in to form a personality-less chorus line, and “At the Ballet” sung by Erica Evans as Shelia Bryant, Liz Conway as Bebe Benzenheimer and Aalon Smith as Maggie Winslow explain and sing that no matter what is happening at home or in their lives “Life is beautiful at the ballet.”

”At the Ballet” and “What I did for Love” really answers the question why. Near the end of the show after one of dancers suffers a knee injury,Zach asks them what will they do if they can’t dance anymore.

Adrienne Storrs as Diana Morales explains hers and then the company’s general thinking of no regrets in “What I Did for Love.” The song became a standard in several pop singers’ repertoire.

A note is needed about the costuming. The variety of clothes worn by the dancers auditioning is deliberate. They help mark different personalities and attitudes. And they are a strong contrast to the uniform gold costumes that everyone wears in the finale, “One,” where individuals aren’t important. It’s the chorus line.

DETAILS: “A Chorus Line” is at Porchlight  Theatre in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St (at Oak St.), Chicago, through May 31, 2019. Running time: 2 hours, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 777-9884 and visit Porchlight Music Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

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