Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review of A Chorus Line by Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, CA


Musical Theatre West is a true Southland treasure, and for their 60th anniversary season they selected a bunch of really solid shows, including an all-time favorite: A Chorus Line. It is always a treat to see this show, and if you have not seen it in person, this is a great opportunity to see it in a fun venue!

On the off chance that you know nothing at all about A Chorus Line, here are some essential tidbits. This is one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history, debuting in 1975, and running for over 6,000 performances during its first run. It won 9 Tony awards and a Pulitzer Prize along the way (I did not know they had a Pulitzer for drama).

It deserved these awards as the writing is first-rate, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. The story is about a group of Broadway dancers that are auditioning for places on a chorus line, and we learn about them through their stories and interactions with the director. Some songs you may know from A Chorus Line are "Nothing," "What I Did For Love," and "One.” Some of the pop culture references are dated, but overall the musical remains timeless (plus it would be a shame to remove the George Harrison references).

If you have seen the show before, you will not surprised by the sets, which are minimal. They use the traditional rotating mirrored panels, which they must have sourced from one of the big set rental places. They were tatty in spots, and a distraction from the close-up seats.

With almost no scenery, the lighting becomes a huge deal, and the lights were fabulous. There are a lot of dialogue and singing scenes that use lighting to highlight individual performers, and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting designs hit the mark every time.

The costumes may seem a bit easier, as they are supposed to represent typical dancer practice attire, but if you stop a think about it for a minute, there was a lot of planning that went into selecting togs for each performer. Each character has a distinct personality, and their clothing summed up each of them succinctly. Of course, the finale used the typical sparkly top-hat costumes, and these were up to par. Possibly these were rented too?

The orchestra pit was empty, so it would be easy to assume that they used canned music, but executive director / producer Paul Garman made it a point to tell the audience beforehand that there was a 20-piece orchestra on stage behind the panels. This is the way A Chorus Line was originally presented, so good on them. But what a terrible sin it is that there was no mention of this in the program, nor was there a list of the musicians who performed. What a shame, because they did a fabulous job. I will give the musical director no credit for his contributions since he did not make sure that his musicians got their fair share. Unfortunately I may be related to him…

Despite the good performances, the sound engineers did not do a good job with the orchestra or the vocalists. Many times the vocals were drowned out by the orchestra, which is unfortunate, as there are so many clever lyrics in this show. Their production of Oklahoma! had the same problem, so they certainly need to look into this.

Due to the nature of A Chorus Line, it would be quite a surprise if the dancing and acting were not up to par and there were no disappointments here. I thought the cast was well-chosen and very talented, and that Roger Castellano did an admirable job with the choreography. I wish I could write a little bit about all of the actors/dancers, but I am afraid that would be a tad dull, so I should stick with the true standouts.

The leads of Zach (the director) and his ex-girlfriend Cassie were both well-done by Chuck Saculla and Chryssie Whitehead, although I had a hard time believing that Cassie was supposed to be too old for the chorus, as she still looks quite young. But there were some other truly outstanding performances from the supporting cast.

Steven Rada is at the top of my list, as his portrayal of Paul (the young man who got into the business in the drag queen revue) was truly heartfelt. His dancing was spectacular, but his acting was even better. With the quality of his performance, I expect we will see a lot more of him.

His counterpoint was Ayme Olivo, who took the role of Diana. She had two big singing numbers, “Nothing” and “What I did for Love,” and she knocked them both out of the park. She was very convincing, and her character’s love of show business was very believable.

Theresa Murray portrayed the perfect Kristine (the girl that just cannot sing). I bet she really can sing, and she certainly can act and her comedic timing is perfect.

And lastly, I am jealous of Marco Ramos, who is as skinny as a rail and can sing like a girl. My god he was ideal for this role!

Overall, this was a great rendition of A Chorus Line. Musical Theatre West was able to capture the spirit of the original 1970’s production while entertaining a 20th-century audience, which is no small task. I love having such a great theatre company in my own backyard.

Sadly, I must chide the other audience members for some truly awful breaches of theatre etiquette as there were more than enough fools in attendance that were unable to silence their cell phones. Damn it, and damn them. I hope they get terrible cold sores and their phones break before their contracts are up.

Despite this, the Carpenter Center is a fine place to see a show. You do not have to drive to Hollywood and hassle with parking, and all of the 1,000 seats in the house are very good. But, I would be remiss if I did not warn parents that this is not a good musical to take young kids to. There is plenty of rough language and mature subject matter, plus this show runs two hours with no intermission. Get a babysitter and save yourself a lot of heartache.

Due to demand, they added a few more shows, but A Chorus Line is closing on Sunday, April 28, so you only have a few more opportunities to catch the show. There are still a few seats available, so check for details. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 East Atherton Street in Long Beach on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, and parking is $5.


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