A Chorus Line at the Ordway

Ensemble in A Chorus Line. Photo ©2016 Rich Ryan

Ensemble in A Chorus Line. Photo ©2016 Rich Ryan.

A Chorus Line, conceived,originally directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett and currently running at the Ordway through February 28th, must be one hell of a show to cast. Because the show, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, is structured mostly as a series of monologues, dance numbers, and songs (frequently solos), with no real “leads,” each of the players must be a strong dancer, singer, and actor for the writing to sound and look convincing. It’s is a tough show, made tougher on the Ordway stage, a space that seems to swallow and drown out its performers.

Taking place in one day, the show is essentially the playing out of an extraordinarily grueling dance audition. The director is hiring four women and four men, so over half of the players have to be cut, and he asks them all to stand in a line and tell him something, anything about themselves. This is used as a character-building tool and structures the show, as each performer must step in front of the line and bear their hearts—their pasts, relationships, dreams, fears, and aspirations.

The Ordway’s production, directed by James A. Rocco and Kerry Casserly, is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the scenes are lovely, feeling honest or funny, while others suffer from stilted dialogue or imperfect singing and fall a little flat. One particular stand-out scene is a lengthy monologue from Paul, played by Omar Garibay, who delivers the speech with impressive nuance and sincerity, entirely alone on stage. The action frequently shifts in tone, and there are a couple of light, energetic sequences as well, like a playful performance by Renee Guittar and Rush Benson of “Sing!” as well as a spirited Maria Briggs singing “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three.”

The staging of A Chorus Line is inherently challenging, as the backstage setting invites aesthetic uniformity. This is especially pronounced in scenes where all the actors are dancing the exact same steps, which is initially impressive but occasionally grows tired. That and the device putting all the characters in a line for much of the show means it periodically feels visually flat. A little more color in the costuming or lighting design may have added interest where it was lacking.

In any case, kudos to the Ordway for attempting this difficult show that seems far away from previously produced wholesome crowd-pleasers like Damn Yankees and The Sound of Music. It must said, however, that while the show addresses some provocative (for its time) subject matter, it now feels a little bit dated. Coming out and dressing in drag are not really taboo anymore, and the heavy-handed treatment of these topics no longer resonates.

Overall, it was a mostly entertaining evening at the theater. The music, by Marvin Hamlisch, is catchy and iconic, the lyrics, by Edward Kleban, are interesting and revealing, and the structure still feels original. That being said, the show wasn’t void of missed notes or lackluster blocking, in both cases amplified by the huge space and simple set. The Ordway’s production can’t quite hit the marks this demanding show requires, but it’s nice to see a locally produced production of the iconic musical anyway.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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