Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
A Class Act
When most people think of A Chorus Line, they think of the highly successful musical that made Broadway history. Some theatergoers may associate the piece with the music of well known composer Marvin Hamlisch. However, theater devotees know that Hamlisch did not write the score on his own. He had help from a very complex but extremely talented man named Edward Kleban. Mr. Kleban's complicated life is explored in the Tony nominated musical, A Class Act.
Now running at Studio Theatre, A Class Act takes Kleban from his time as a young man in a psychiatric hospital to his success as the lyricist for A Chorus Line, and finally to his untimely death at the age of 48 from cancer.
Although a celebrated lyricist, Kleban always wanted to be recognized for both his lyrics and his music. This was a constant struggle for him and consequently he was never able to duplicate the success he achieved with A Chorus Line. At the time of his death, he left behind a large collection of songs. Kleban's longtime companion Linda Kline partnered with Broadway veteran Lonny Price to create a piece to show off the composer's work. They incorporated twenty of Kleban's unpublished songs into the project and the result is a poignant musical record of this very eccentric man's life.
For the most part, the show is well crafted. Kleban's music is used to highlight many significant moments in his life. Taken as a whole, the score is enjoyable but the songs are not all equal in quality. Songs such as "Light On My Feet" and "Better" leave no doubt that Kleban was a skilled composer. The true gem in this score is "Self Portrait," a beautifully constructed song that is emotionally satisfying. Unfortunately, there are pieces that aren't crafted as well, such as "Mona," a rather tired and somewhat corny sounding number. However, Kline and Price placed each song well. They have also done a good job of exposing Kleban's talent as well as his difficult personality in a book that is both humorous and intelligent.
This is indeed an engaging show and for that reason it deserves a better cast. There are a number of individual weaknesses among this group of actors, but one pervading problem is lack of projection. More often than not, the actors' voices are drowned out by the orchestra, and one has to strain to understand the lyrics being sung.
The characters portrayed in this show are a colorful group, but one would not know it by watching this production. Helen Hayes Award winner Mia Whang is a fine actress but her portrayal of Felicia is lacking. She never really immerses herself in the character, and her musical numbers are quite weak. Eric Sutton is a competent Charley but his Marvin Hamlisch does not hit the mark. Additionally, Tony Capone as Bobby is quite strong but his portrayal of Michael Bennett seems half-hearted.
Fortunately, there are two very good performances. Lauri Kraft delivers a lovely portrayal of Kleban's friend and partner, Lucy. She displays a splendid voice and excellent timing. Along with those strengths, she also exhibits wonderful chemistry with Bobby Smith's Kleban.
As Kleban, Smith (picture at right) is simply outstanding. He sings and dances expertly, and he manages to inhabit Kleban's persona with ease. Smith is also adept at connecting with the audience. It is a connection that takes place instantly, making it difficult not to care for this individual. As Smith conveys the composer's triumphs as well as his internal chaos, he takes the audience along with him, allowing them to understand the erratic journey that was Ed Kleban's life.
Despite some mediocre performances, A Class Act is an entertaining piece of theater. However, this show is more than just a pleasurable musical. It is also a look at an artist who made an everlasting impact on the world of musical theater. A Class Act runs at the Studio in the Mead Theatre through June 22nd.
The Studio Theatre
Ed Kleban: Bobby Smith