Thursday, January 19, 2006

One Singular Sensation

"A Chorus Line" had the slimmest plot a musical had even seen up to that time,(1975) but it had an interesting idea: a group of dancers desperately auditioning for eight jobs on the chorus line of a new musical. These dancers represent the thousands upon thousands of dancers and actors who toiled in the background. It went on to become one of Broadway's longest-running shows. "A Chorus Line" won every prize the theater could offer, including the Pulitzer and nine Tonys.

"A Chorus Line" threw out almost every convention the American musical had carefully built up. It had no scenery beyond some mirrors, no real costumes save leotards and a few spangles for the finale and no star. But the show captured the dreams of anyone who wanted to make it to the top,just as the dancers in the show.

I was familiar with the show its show-stopping numbers and the general concept, but I had never seen the show. The chance to see it at the community based Center Season Theatre Series at the Kansas City Jewish Community Center was welcome. The fact that my friend Jeff Stevens was playing a mean bass in the orchestra was an added benefit.

I had a problem with the show. Maybe I was the only one who ever had but the first act left me cold. This was not the fault of the able players, mostly 20 something college and high school thespians, but of the concept. The long line and numbing banter was just more than I could handle. Not having a lot of experience with the show, it could have been pacing but the pacing seemed good to me. The monologues and disconnected ramblings of the wannabe dancers just seemed to go on too long. I did not develop much rapport with the dancers.

Or did I?? By the second act, I was rooting for some of them to be picked and felt a bit of tension in my heart as Zach the producer picked his 8 lucky dancers. I was pleased that some made it, and disappointed that some didn't. The dancers became more human, it was revealed that Cassie was a former girlfriend of Zach and Paul delivers a heart wrenching monologue about his past as a drag performer and his parents' reaction and acceptance of it. In 1975, that must have been stunning, the impact is lessened a bit 31 years later.

The cast was uniformly good, the dancing great and the sound ok, with some miking gaffs but nothing out of the ordinary. My biggest quibble and one shared by more than a few, is that Zach was stationed in the audience in back of the theatre. You heard his "Voice of God" voice over the sound system but you didn't see him. I noticed a man walking around at one point and thought a patron was getting up. It was Zach. It was supposed to make it seem like the whole theatre was the stage and he was simply in his usual spot. It didn't work. We had no clue he was there, and no clue who he was until he went up on stage in the second act. Could have been handled better.

A Chorus Line is certainly worth the $18 I had to pay to hear Jeff play (that was for his benefit). I heartily recommend it.

And kudos for the Jewish Community Center for hosting the play in the wonderful White Theatre. The Center Season series has both "family" and "mature audience" plays that appeal to a broad range of tastes.

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