Friday, February 19, 2016

Singular Sensation - A Chorus Line at the Ordway

Tom Berklund as Zach (Photo by Rich Ryan)
An empty stage, black curtains across the back and a single white line across the stage towards the front. That is what greeted us when we walked into opening night of A Chorus Line at the Ordway. It was exactly what we expected to see, and the performance did not disappoint.

If you are one of the few who does not know the story of A Chorus Line (both the story onstage, and the history of how the show came together), you can read about it here.
If you are interested in the history, I would recommend a great documentary named Every Little Step.

The story of A Chorus Line is about a cattle call audition. The stage is filled with dancers auditioning for a show (that is never named). Through the following two hours (no intermission), the dancers get cut down to the ones who stand on the line and tell the audience a bit of their story, talk about their passion for dance, and learn the dance steps. The show is set in 1975 (the year it opened on Broadway) with a few small updates. The costuming was perfect for that time period, as were the dancing styles.
Photo by Rich Ryan

The show starts with the basic audition number "I Hope I Get It." It starts with just a rehearsal piano playing for the dancers who are learning the number and watching themselves in the mirror across the back of the stage. Zach (the director/choreographer) tells them to do the whole number, away from the mirror and the orchestra (who sound incredibly through the whole evening) takes over. It was incredible, giving me shivers even remembering it!

After the first cut, we are left with seventeen actors. They stand on the line and Zach (played and danced incredibly by Tom Berklund) asks them to tell him about themselves. Some of them give in very easily to talk, others are a bit more reticent. As the characters tell stories, the other characters think about what stories they want to tell, or have memories of their own. Mike (Tim Hausmann) is great in "I Can Do That." Sheila (Pilar Millhollen), Bebe (Katie Hahn) and Maggie (Amanda Lea LaVergne) sing about being inspired "At The Ballet." This is one of my favorite songs and the last build before the end did not disappoint thanks to Maggie's amazing belt! This number was staged perfectly by Kerry Casserly and James A. Rocco.

This song leads into a montage called "Hello Twelve" where the cast sings about growing up, dealing with puberty, dating, life as an artistic child in a non-artistic school, being someone different, etc. Up till now, the cast has been on stage through the solo numbers, yet in the middle of this montage (when Diana sings "Nothing"), the cast exits. While I found it odd, neither myself nor my companion could remember when the cast came back onstage so clearly the moment worked well.

Diana (Katrina Asmar) has a great voice, and plays the part so well. After her number, the cast comes back on and the montage continues--again perfectly staged in that the actors sing their solos, and dance their numbers, but they land exactly in their original spot on the line. Val (Maria Briggs) sings the very well known "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three." Then the cast is sent on a break.
Molly Tynes as Cassie (Photo by Rich Ryan)

At the last minute, Zach calls back Cassie (Molly Tynes). It has been hinted at earlier that they have had a relationship. Cassie has her big number "The Music And The Mirror." This is an incredibly difficult number to stage and perform. It has such a long history of amazing dancers doing this number - from Donna McKechnie, Charlotte d'Amboise, and many others. This production's version is very good yet for me, it seemed to lack something. Molly was fantastic, however I felt the choreography was lacking something, some passion. One small issue with an overall fantastic production.

After this number, Larry (the amazing Tony Vierling) takes the whole cast downstairs to learn the final combination. Paul (Omar Garibay) comes on to tell his story--a very well known monologue about being gay, doing drag, and learning to live with dignity. The show ends with the number you have been waiting for all night: "One." Each actor comes on, takes a bow in a spotlight, then joins the chorus line where they all look the same.

Photo by Rich Ryan
It is the brilliance of the show that all these individuals that you have come to care for and be interested in, end up being like every one else. I feel that it really shows us that all this mass of humanity that we see in our daily commute - each on has their own story and is special.

That is what makes this show so special as well, and why it endures. This production and choreography was spot on, the vocals and orchestra were amazing, and the cast was incredible. It really was and is a singular sensation, and you should go see it. It plays through February 28 at the Ordway on the main stage.