Wednesday, June 18, 2003

A Chorus Line (Porthouse)


In 1975 I went to New York to see Lorain County Community College graduate Chrissy Wilczak in the Broadway production of ‘A CHORUS LINE.’ The Elyrian had been in the off-Broadway rendition of the show whose book was also written by an Elyrian--James Kirkwood. That production was a seminal theatrical experience.

Each time I see a production of the musical I wonder if my emotional illusion will be broken. Oft times it is. This is a hard show to stage, especially for a non-professional cast. I need not have worried about The Porthouse Theatre production. Under the able direction of Victoria Bussert, with choreography by the gifted MaryAnn Black, “A CHORUS LINE’ kicks high. It is a wonderful experience.

Based on true stories of the original off-Broadway cast, which Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante wove into a compelling story, and augmented with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, the show tells the tale of trying out for a musical. The show is an audition--an audition of dancers to be in the chorus. It is filled with humor, pathos, and explosive visual images.

The elements of the musical score are legends. Songs like the opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” “At the Ballet,” and “One” have become classics. The visual images of a line of dancers, dressed in white spangled tuxedos doing high kicks is etched in the minds of all theatre junkies. The use of a wall of mirrors to reflect the images of the dancers’ inner souls to the audience is a touch of staging genius.

The winner of nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the show has all the elements that make for an exciting and entertaining evening of theatre. The elements are there, but in weak hands, the show can seem laborious. Laborious is not the word to describe the high powered Porthouse staging.

This is not to say that this is a perfect production. It isn’t. But the weaknesses--some questionable characterizations and some uneven singing and dancing--get lost in the excitement of this young cast that has a clear idea of how to wow an audience.

An ensemble piece, there are no real stars in the show. Certain people, do, however stand out. As he has proven time after time, Kristopher Thompson-Bolden explodes onto a stage. He captivates an audience with his enthusiasm, fine singing and electric dancing. Kaitlyn Black’s rendition of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” was a show stopper. Lisa Kuchmen, Kelly Meneer, and Lauren Champlin melded perfectly in “At the Ballet.” Kuchnen’s portrayal of Sheila was right on. Jessica Cope has a powerful and compelling voice, as was displayed in both “Nothing” and the poignant, “What I Did For Love.” Too bad her acting doesn’t quite match her singing abilities. Matt Lillo’s “I Can Do That” was an audience pleaser, but he could have toned down the mincing in other scenes. Eli Zoller did a delightful segment on the trama of coming of age.

The highlight acting scene was Gary Walker’s long soliloquy. He brought tears while recounting his character’s self-perceived shameful life. Kelly Simmons and Joshua Gordon did an engaging rendition of “Sing.” Gordon has a strong singing voice. Daniel Puck’s mimed striptease pleased those looking for eye candy.

Capsule judgment: Combine a talented cast, focused directing, creative choreography by a professional who performed one of the roles in the Broadway production. Mix those elements with a fine orchestra, a precise conductor, a well conceived set, well-conceived lighting and well-designed costumes. The results? Porthouse Theatre’s must see production of “A CHORUS LINE.”