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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Chorus Line is Still
One Singular Sensation

Also see Richard's reviews of Aida and Sweeney Todd

A Chorus Line
Kathryn Mowat Murphy
The American Musical Theatre of San Jose is producing Michael Bennett's dazzling masterpiece A Chorus Line, directed and choreographed by Kay Cole who originated the role of Maggie on Broadway in 1975. She is helming a sterling cast of veteran Broadway and regional dancers and singers. Many of the dancers have appeared in A Chorus Line in regional companies across the country. This is not a touring show, and it will end at the San Jose Performing Arts Center on March 6th.

A Chorus Line enchanted more than six million people during its 15 years on Broadway. I first saw this masterpiece at the Shubert Theatre with Priscilla Lopez, Donna McKechnie, Robert LuPone and Sammy Williams during the summer of 1975. Since that time I have seen the musical with various casts in New York, London, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The AMT did a bang-up production of the backstage musical six years ago. The Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban score is still everlastingly engraved in musical theatre history.

Martin Gottfried of the New York Post said of the 1975 Broadway production, "At a time when producers are taking choruses out of their musicals for the sake of economy, director Michael Bennett has taken everything else out. For in the dance chorus he has found the very heart of the Broadway musical." In 1989 Ken Mandelbaum described it as "the best blending of all the elements of musical theatre yet achieved by a theatre artist." This is very true in my estimation, and every time I see this timeless classic, I get goosebumps, especially in the thrilling last scene when all of the dancers appear on stage in the final extravagant number. There has never been anything like A Chorus Line and I doubt there every will be again. It is a timeless classic.

A Chorus Line tells the back stories and struggles of 18 hopeful dancers auditioning for eight chorus parts. It focuses on the lives and ambition of these dancers and how much they need this job. Michael Bennett incorporated what could be considered a cinema feel to the musical. The focus of a dancer's dreams and concerns shifts from one figure to another in quick succession. The use of mirrors in the background adds to the drama and effectiveness of the show.

The only drawback to this super production is that American Musical Theatre decided to put in a twenty-minute intermission, right after "Dance: Ten Looks: Three" when Zack's assistant says that the kids need a 20-minute break. The house lights suddenly come on and it somewhat stuns the audience. This "break" almost destroys the momentum that has been building. However, when "act two" starts, the "Music and the Mirror" danced by Kathryn Mowat Murphy (Broadway: Fosse, Chicago tour) as Cassie, brings back the brilliance of the musical. This is one of the longest solos ever created for a musical and Ms. Murphy is amazing. She gives the character of Cassie a significant new look and her solo is striking.

Director Kay Cole has found the best talent to portray the other 17 dancers. Especially outstanding is Robert Marra (having played Mark, Al and Paul twice before) as Paul. His emotional story toward the end of the production is beautifully presented. Cindy Marchionda, who recently played the hard-hitting Diana Morales at Paper Mill Playhouse, reprises her role in this production. She is very moving when she sings "What I Did for Love." Tracy Powell (this is her 5th production as Sheila and recently was in Paint Your Wagon at Geffen Playhouse) looks like a young Virginia Mayo and she is properly sardonic as the veteran Sheila who has been around the block a couple of times.

Courter Simmons (New York actor, also played Billy Dean in TheatreWorks production of Violet) as Mike has that right amount of ego in the number "I Can Do That," and Kevin Spirtas (New York: Boy from Oz, Meet Me in St Louis) makes a good Zach, especially in the last scene with Paul. All of the performances are top of the line.

Costume coordinator Marina Agebekov uses the same basic ware that I have seen in every one of the past productions of the musical. You get to know who is going to be accepted and rejected right from the opening scene by the characters wearing the same costumes. Kay Cole, along with Bob Avian's choreography, is right on target, and once again that last number brings down the house.

A Chorus Line plays at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose through March 6th. For tickets call 1-888-455-7469 or 408-453-7108 or visit www.amtsj.org. Coming up at the center are Lord of the Dance, Cats and Movin' Out.

Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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