Monday, June 27, 2016

Theater Review: A Chorus Line -- Playhouse on Park

Rina Maejima as Connie, Ronnie Bowman as Richie, Kayla Starr Bryan as Bebe, Alex Polzun as Mike, Tracey Mellon as Sheila, Jared Starkey as Mark, Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, Peej Mele as Bobby, Sarah Kozlow as Maggie, Max Weinstein as Gregory, Bobbi Barricella as Diana, Jeremy Seiner as Al, Cara Rashkin as Judy, Ben Cooley as Don, Andee Buccheri as Val, Tino Ardiente as Paul, Michelle Pruiett as Cassie, Spencer Pond as Larry. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
One Sensation, Hardly Singular.... There’s Lots Going on in This Small Space
By Lauren Yarger
It’s the show that has become a tradition in theaters across America since it took Broadway by storm and won a Pulitzer Prize to boot in 1976, but the production of A Chorus Line at Playhouse on Park seems fresh and surprisingly contemporary.

Part of the reason is outstanding choreography by Darlene Zoller, who Co-Directs with Sean Harris. Zeller recreates the traditional look of the chorus with multiple lines that use the theater’s small thrust space on the floor and all three sides of the audience end up with fabulous seats. The precision is remarkable.

They set the show in a rehearsal space, rather than on a Broadway stage) where a wall of mirrors (designed by Christopher Hoyt) turns in to backdrop. The result is that we feel we are right there with these kids, and that the action is taking place now, even if the show is set in 1975. The run time of the show is a brisk two hours without intermission (I have seen some versions that run almost three hours). This mostly non-Equity show stands up against some of the most satisfying productions of the Marvin Hamlisch musical I have seen.

With a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante and Lyrics by Edward Kleban, A Chorus Line tells the story of a bunch of Broadway hopefuls auditioning for a musical. Director Zach (Eric S. Robertson) and his assistant Larry (Spencer Pond, who assists Zoller with choreography) put the dancers through their paces, but Zach is looking for more than just dance talent for the eight slots he has available in the line. He wants to know something about the kids personally too and asks them to share some of how they got to this audition.

There’s Val (Andee Buccheri) who always has been concerned about her looks and body, Mike (Alex Polzun) who can tap anything, vulnerable Mark (Jared Starkey), diminutive Connie (Rina Maejima). Sheila, Bebe and Maggie (Tracey Mellon, Kayla Starr Bryan and Sarah Kozlow ) who escaped their unhappy home life by taking ballet lessons, married couple Kristine (Mallory Cunningham) and Al (Jeremy Seiner),  shy Paul (Tino Ardiente ) who began his career as a drag performer and a number of other hopefuls who fill out the ensemble.

Zach is most interested to know why his former lover, Cassie (Michelle Pruiett) want to be back in the chorus since she actually made it out as a featured performer. She hasn’t worked in a couple of years, however, and she just wants to dance.

The story is told in dialogue between the performers, and also in expressions of what they are thinking. Songs like “I Hope I Get It,” “At the Ballet,” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” “The Music and the Mirror,” and “What I Did for Love,” have become classics. The famous closing chorus line to “One .... Singular Sensation” is the only time Zoller and Harris yield to tradition expectations in the production (along with the gold costumes and top hats, designed by Lisa Steier (though lighting designed by Christopher Bell fails to give adequate spotlight to the actors who have made the cut and landed in the production).

Music Directors Emmett Drake and Michael Morris appropriately keep the accompaniment toned down so we aren’t blown out of the small theater space. A very good production of the classic. If you haven’t ever seen the show, don’t miss this one.

A Chorus Line kicks up at Playhouse on Park through July 31. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $35-$45. Additional special ticket offers are available. 860-523-5900 x10 or visit www.playhouseonpark.org.

Note: the theater warns “Parental Discretion Advised due to language, recommended for ages 13 and up.”

Full cast:
Tino Ardiente .... Paul 
Bobbi Barricella .... Diana 
Ronnie Bowman, Jr. .... Richie
Kayla Starr Bryan .... Bebe
Andee Buccheri .... Val 
Ben Cooley .... Don 
Mallory Cunningham .... Kristine 
Sarah Kozlow .... Maggie
Rina Maejima .... Connie
Peej Mele .... Bobby 
Tracey Mellon .... Sheila 
Alex Polzun .... Mike
Spencer Pond .... Larry
Michelle Pruiett .... Cassie
Cara Rashkin .... Judy
Eric S. Robertson.... Zach
Jeremy Seiner .... Al 
Jared Starkey .... Mark
Max Jacob Weinstein .... Greg
Emily Dufour, Heather Fisch, Anna Marie Russell. Olivia Ryan, Dyllan Vallier and Sarah Warrick…. Ensemble

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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