News Column

'Chorus Line' still one singular sensation

July 19, 2013

YellowBrix

July 19--When "A Chorus Line" last returned here in 2010, I couldn't help marveling that it still impressed as unique and astonishingly effective. The tour of the Broadway revival was as potent as when the work premiered in 1975, even without the spark of newness and innovation.

Back again as this year's free Theatre Under The Stars production at Miller Outdoor Theatre, the landmark musical about the lives of Broadway dancers is still a "singular sensation" -- even if this rendition has room for fine-tuning and tightening.

Original director and choreographer Michael Bennett conceived and developed "A Chorus Line" based on taped discussions with actual Broadway dancers, sharing stories of their lives and struggles. In his ingenious format, the show unfolds as an audition. Dancers compete for jobs in a new show while obeying director Zach's orders to "tell a little about themselves" so he can see how they'll work together on stage.

"A Chorus Line" broke ground not only in concept and structure but also in its frank treatment of the characters' personal lives. If no longer startling, it's still unusually thorny for a mainstream hit.

Mitzi Hamilton, a Bennett associate and one of the original interview subjects whose stories sparked the show, has re-created his choreography and staging with affection, precision and respect.

The cast is strong if somewhat unevenly matched. But one of this show's built-in advantages is that the audition milieu allows those discrepancies, so long as raw talent and genuine commitment shine through.

Jessica Lee Goldyn makes a terrific Cassie, with a strong voice and even stronger dancing, scoring spectacularly in her solo "The Music and the Mirror." Selina Verastigui exudes warmth and sympathy as Diana, eloquent in "What I Did for Love." Alissa Lavergne is all attitude as worldly Sheila, showing her tender side in the poignant "At the Ballet." Kristen Paulicelli is saucy and vivacious as silicone-enhanced Val, belting a show-stopping "Dance: 10; Looks: 3."

Jordan Fife Hunt acts hypersensitive Paul with understated pathos. Logan Keslar amuses as Bobby, the class clown always "doing a routine." Kevin Curtis' explosive energy and dynamic song and dance skills make his Richie a standout. Martin Harvey invests hard-bitten director Zach with tough authority.

Not all elements of this unorthodox show are equally at home in the vast, diffuse environment of Miller Outdoor Theatre. The big pure-dance moments and the more direct vocals still wield a knockout punch. Yet more complex passages with many interwoven fragments, such as the "Hello Twelve, Hello, Thirteen" sequence about adolescence, and the more extended monologues, especially Paul's grueling confessional soliloquy, would play better in more intimate surroundings with fewer distractions.

Picking up the pace, in monologues and some "vamp till ready" moments, would help -- as would more consistent amplification. Another quibble: The addition of an intermission breaks the momentum and focus just as the show heads into the home stretch.

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(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle

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