The story of “A Chorus Line” is familiar, even to those who did not see it in its original incarnation as the longest running Broadway hit of its time. The show, which runs without an intermission, is structured as an audition conducted by an ambitious director, Zach (Fran Kranz ’04).
Hoping to gain a glimpse into the dancers’ characters, to create a particularly expressive corps for his new show, Zach surprises the performers by requesting that they spill the stories of their lives before the endless rounds of auditions, countless layers of makeup, fake names and plastic surgery obscure their pasts. Despite initial reluctance, they begin to expose their stories. A progression of tales, which move chronologically in a pattern from early childhood through the end of their careers, forms the essence of this show.
Unlike most musicals, which take care to clearly define sympathetic protagonists, “A Chorus Line” features 18 characters of nearly equal prominence — 17 dancers and Zach. Ironically, just as Zach, perched at the controls at the back of the theater for most of the show, watches critically, so does the audience. He is auditioning the characters for a chorus line, while the audience is trying to decide with whose story they will empathize — whose clapping, whirling, and spinning to the elaborately choreographed musical numbers. Zach’s callbacks at the end of the show are played, appropriately, as an anticlimax in this production, as the audience have already made their decisions.
But individual preferences notwithstanding, the entire cast is exceptional — the solo pieces, in which the performers tell their stories through songs, dances, and monologues, are without exception powerful and often poignant.
Among the standouts are charismatic Maria-Christina Oliveras ’01 as Diana, whose song “Nothing” tells of a horrible high school acting class. “Dance Ten, Looks Three” — better known as “Tits and Ass” — is remodeled bombshell Val’s (Allysha Powanda ’03) explanation that casting directors don’t just look for talent. As Paul, the sensitive Puerto Rican-turned-Italian homosexual and former drag queen, James Waldinger’ 01 shows off some of the best acting in the show. As Cassie, who returns to her career as a chorus girl after a fling with leading roles, Alexis Carra ’03 was a fine dancer. The solo that Carra choreographed for herself, “Music and the Mirror,” is absorbing and expressive.
As in the original Broadway production, the set here is just a strip of white tape running along the stage, though the actors do commandeer the first row of seats for their dance bags and other paraphernalia. This concept of sparseness is well-suited to Yale’s Off-Broadway theater. Throughout, the show retains a sense of immediacy and candor that serves well its premise as an audition. The sound of dancing — feet hitting the floor, breathing, exertion — is in some ways as expressive about life in the chorus line as the dialogue.
The downside to the peripheral noise is that it tends to detract a bit from the wonderful score by Marvin Hamlisch. With a small band off stage, and minimally amplified voices, the sound isn’t quite as rich and full as it could be. Despite the presence of numerous veterans of Yale a cappella groups and the efforts of vocal director Drew Osarchuk ’02, the singing remains uneven. The direction of James DuRuz ’03 and choreography by Nambi Gardner ’01 is original and exciting, but often leaves some characters standing around the stage with not much to do.
It is bad luck for this production that its shortfalls come mainly at the end, with the last number, “One.” In an intended show of supreme irony and style, the dancers are supposed to fade back into anonymity by their movements and their shiny, identical clothing. But though the intent is discernible, the timing isn’t quite there. Instead of being smooth, the number was slightly pained, as each member of the chorus remains, him or herself, slightly off-beat or out of place. It is still a great song, but its symbolism and its snap as a dance is lost.
Although this “A Chorus Line” is far from a display of virtuosity, as a showcase of raw talent and charisma, it is exceptional.
A Chorus Line
Friday at 8 and 11 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.
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