Thursday, October 16, 2008



So there is no question about the basis of this review: I am ‘A CHORUS LINE’ fanatic. I love the show! This affection carries with it a problem...I go into productions of the show with the fear that the director/choreographer/actors are going to give me visual and emotional mind-burn.

Unfortunately, the touring production of ‘A CHORUS LINE,’ now on stage at the Palace Theatre, is a major disappointment! It lacks energy. It lacks the quality of acting, dancing and singing that makes the show a theatrical feast.

The results are very surprising considering that the tour has only been on the road since the beginning of May, so there is no reason for the general look of exhaustion from the cast. It is directed by Bob Avian, who was the co-choreographer of the original show which opened on-Broadway in 1975, won nine Tony Awards and ran for nearly 15 years, and closed in 1990 after 6,137 performances. This can’t be the show that opened in a Big Apple revival to rave reviews in 2006 and was billed as “exhilarating,” “endearing,” and “a masterpiece.”

‘A CHORUS LINE’ was originally conceived, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett, the recognized genius of theatre choreographers. It has music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. The book was assembled by Elyria native James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante.

The script was not written by the traditional means of a writer conceiving a plot. ‘A CHORUS LINE’ began as a workshop "share" session. A group of dancers met after rehearsals for other shows to talk about their personal and professional lives. The sessions were tape recorded, written down, and a libretto was pieced together. Their combined work, guided closely by Bennett, resulted in a staging scheme that filled the songs and book with overlapping layers.

The final result was a story set in a Broadway theater. Young hopefuls are auditioning for a job in the chorus line of a musical. As each speaks, sings and dances, we learn about their hopes, insecurities and dreams. And eventually, their individuality becomes blurred as they become part of the chorus line, blending together into a unit of one…a chorus line.

What has always stood out in the show was Michael Bennett’s amazing choreography. Unfortunately, in the touring production Baayork Lee, who restaged the moves, didn’t demand Bennett’s perfectionism, the use of what he called “cinematic staging.” The Bennett signatures of slanted bodies, tilted heads, precise hand and arm movements, the flick of the wrist that turns the hats, aren’t there in total harmony.

Bennett used a constant "jump-cutting" so the audience's attention is shifted from one figure to another. This draws focus to the character by placing the visual spotlight on that person. Bennett also used a series of mirrors to spotlight performers and make them stand out bigger than life in the eyes of the audience. This production lost many of those qualities.

The cast is uneven. Gabrielle Ruiz’s (Diana) “Nothing” was well interpreted, but her “What I Did for Love” ” failed to capture the mood and meaning of the song. Hollie Howard (Maggie) has a great voice, Derek Hanson (Don) has the Bennett dance attitude and moves, and Emily Fletcher has the right attitude as Sheila. Kevin Santos hits Paul’s emotional self-revealing monologue right on, not only bringing tears to his eyes but to the eyes of many in the audience.

On the other hand, Nikki Snelson doesn’t display the dancing, acting or singing skills to pull off the pivotal role of Cassie. Elise Hall (Val) fails to get the necessary humor from “Dance; Ten; Looks: Three). She doesn’t compare with Elyria’s Crissy Wilzak, who played the role during part of the original Broadway run.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The touring production of ‘A CHORUS LINE’ misses the mark of being a “singular sensation,” which it should have been. It’s not, as a line from the show says, “nothing,” but it should have been so much more!