They Walk The Line

ae2 cabrillostage2Cabrillo Stage delivers a vivid, heartfelt ‘Chorus Line’

Talk about a singular sensation. When “A Chorus Line” debuted in 1975, it broke all the rules for what a Broadway musical is supposed to be. There are no elaborate sets or scene changes; it all takes place on a bare rehearsal stage with one mirrored wall. Playing out in more or less real time, with no intermission, the storyline—you couldn’t call it a plot, exactly—concerns a score of young dancers auditioning for the chorus of a Broadway show. Costumes? The kind of practice clothes every dancer has in his or her wardrobe. It also presents various gay and ethnically diverse characters in frankly sympathetic terms.

But everything that was supposed to be wrong with the show was evidently right on—it won nine Tonys, numerous Drama Desk and Obie Awards, and a Pulitzer Prize. It also ran on Broadway for 19 years.

Cabrillo Stage veteran Janie Scott was a young dancer in 1977 when she won a place in one of the first touring companies of “A Chorus Line,” cast by the show’s original director and choreographer, Michael Bennett. And now she recaptures the stripped-down, no-frills, emotionally exposed vibe of the original show as director-choreographer of her own vivid production of “A Chorus Line,” the flagship event in the 2012 Cabrillo Stage summer season.

Scott sets the story in its original time frame, 1975, so she doesn’t have to edit out references in the James Kirkwood/Nicholas Dante book, “A Chorus Line,” to 20th century dance icons Ann Miller and Gwen Verdon, The Red Shoes, or The Ed Sullivan Show. (It’s doubtful if twentysomething line dancers today would know who these people and shows were.) Otherwise, these characters and their stories feel as universal as ever, and the Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban songs just as fresh.

The show begins without prelude (or overture) in the middle of an audition. Veteran Broadway choreographer, Zach (a solid, empathetic Bill Olson), and his dance assistant, Larry (effervescent Joshua C. Lau), are putting a stage-full of hopeful dance “gypsies” through their paces. The entire company performs a rousing version of the opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” before a handful of also-rans are culled out, paring the audition down to 17 dancers, competing for eight spots in the chorus of a new show.ae2 cabrillostage1

To get to know them better, Zach (a disembodied voice from the control booth for much of the time) invites the dancers in the line to chat about themselves. What follows is a series of personality-revealing solos, trios, routines and vignettes, all performed with vigor and heart by Scott’s hard-working cast. Standouts include Zoe Schneider-Smith as feisty Diana Morales; a terrific singer, she nails the song “Nothing,” and leads the company in the power anthem, “What I Did For Love.”

Adam J. Saucedo and Crystina Robinette are funny as married dancers, with Al trying to coach his tone-deaf wife, Kristine, through the comic number, “Sing.” Adam Theodore Barry sets a high standard early on as Mike, in his fresh, knockabout number, “I Can Do That.” Lizzie O’Hara is raucous fun as Val, singing about her extensive plastic surgery, Hugh Haiker scores laughs as droll, arch Bobby (“To commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant,” he observes), trading bons mots with Lauren Bjorgan’s caustic Sheila.

Noelani Neal radiates poise and presence in the centerpiece role of Cassie, a veteran dancer who used to “stop the show cold,” but whose star fizzled after a misguided sojourn in Hollywood. (She’s a fine dancer, but her big solo number, “The Music and the Mirror” needs a little punching up to be the show-stopper we expect.) Brian Conway is excellent as Paul, the emotional heart of the play, a young Puerto Rican whose story of coming of age and coming out to his parents is delivered in a heartfelt monologue, unaided by song or dance.

Skip Epperson’s no-set set and Kyle Grant’s lighting design score in their unobtrusive functionality. Ditto Maria Crush’s canny costumes, which seem to have been grabbed right out of the rehearsal trunk, while her gold-spangled suits and top hats for the finale, “One,” are appropriately dazzling. And a chorus of unseen pit singers provides an extra layer of vocal lushness to match the physical energy onstage in Scott’s entertaining production.

“A Chorus Line” runs July 13-Aug. 12 at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. For tickets call 479-6154, or visit cabrillostage.com. Photo Credit: Jana Marcus

See GTv video where Greg and Kim audition for a A Chorus Line >

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