News Column

Theater review: An emotionally tugging 'Chorus Line' at Music Circus

June 26, 2014

By Marcus Crowder, The Sacramento Bee

June 26--Midway through the first act of Tuesday's opening night performance of "A Chorus Line" at the Music Circus, the gentleman next to me leaned over and whispered, "I thought this was going to be like the Rockettes or something."

No, the 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic musical about 17 dancers auditioning for eight slots in a Broadway show is not like the Rockettes. "A Chorus Line" is a groundbreaking musical that takes the audience into the sanctity of the performers' rehearsal room and, more significantly, into the dancers' psyches.

Director Stafford Arima's deeply satisfying new production makes beautiful use of the Wells Fargo Pavilion's circular stage and its unique moving parts, creating the necessary confessional intimacy and dramatic intensity that mark the show. Randy Slovacek created the energetic, evocative choreography, and musical director Valerie Gebert leads the sharp orchestra through the propulsive, varied Marvin Hamlisch score.

The show, with lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, has become beloved by performers for its honest stories of regular artists' lives. There's no glorifying or sensationalizing. These dancers aren't stars. This is the working class of Broadway performers, the chorus line. Music Circus artistic director Glenn Casale calls it "the first reality show."

The original Broadway production ran 6,137 performances, receiving 12 Tony Award nominations and winning nine as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It was the longest-running production in Broadway history until "Cats" passed it in 1997.

The musical is set on a bare stage of a Broadway theater during an audition for a musical. Director of the show-within-the-show, the initially all-business Zach (a dynamic Eric Sciotto), settles in with a group of 17 for unconventional personal interviews. The dancers come forward one by one to tell their stories. The monologues often become songs, such as "At the Ballet." Gradually personalities emerge as we meet the likes of Connie Wong (Katie Boren), a smallish Chinese American woman continually worried about her height and weight; Richie Walters (Roger Ellis), a black dancer who once thought he'd be a kindergarten teacher; and Diana Morales (Selina Michelle Verastigui), a Puerto Rican girl whose teachers constantly put her down.

Three characters particularly stand out: Jenifer Foote's tough, aging Sheila, Kate Levering's desperate Cassie and Xavier Cano's sensitive Paul. Former Sacramentans Foote and Levering, who successfully made their way into musical theater careers in New York and on Broadway, grew up performing at the Music Circus, and doing this particular show in this theater is special moment for each one.

Foote performed in the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line," calling it "the highlight" of her career. "I never even dreamed big enough that I would be in this show, because it's such an incredible, iconic show," Foote said in an interview during rehearsals.

Levering as Cassie has a show-stopping solo, "The Music and the Mirror."

Cano's Paul is the most emotionally involving as he relates his confused teenage years and his father's startling acceptance of him.

Though "A Chorus Line" really has no singular narrative, its communal story of dancers' lives, hopes and fears has an undeniable emotional pull in this vital production.



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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)

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