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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Chorus Line is Still One Singular Sensation

Also see Richard's reviews of Li'l Abner and Brooklyn Boy

A Chorus Line
Jessica Lee Goldyn, Paul McGill, Jason Tam, Natalie Cortez
The current pre-Broadway production of A Chorus Line, playing at the Curran Theatre through September 2nd, rivals the original production at the Shubert Theatre in 1975. The stunning musical verite captivated more then six million people during its nearly 15-year run on Broadway. It is still a brilliantly complex fusion of dance, song and compelling authentic drama.

I first saw the original, featuring Priscilla Lopez, Donna McKechnie, Robert LuPone and Sammy Williams, during the summer of 1975. I saw three more productions in New York with different casts over the years, as well as productions in London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. The current production ranks as good as the original. The music is a little more upbeat and modern, but there are no major changes from the Schubert Theatre production. It is still presented with no intermission.

I think Ken Mandelbaum said it best in 1989 when he described A Chorus Line as the "best blending of all the elements of musical theatre yet achieved by a theatre artist." There has been nothing like this classic musical and I doubt there ever will be.

In its current reincarnation, A Chorus Line is still thrilling with those kids on stage doing kicks, leaps, pivots and struts. The first ten minutes - with the incredible dancers performing vigorous series of dance combinations, including ballet and jazz, for director Zach (Michael Berresse) - create a surge of excitement. You hope that all of the dancers will be on stage for the full two-hour production and feel sorry as Zach thins the group down to the final sixteen.

A Chorus Line tells the story of thousands of talented dancers and singer who flock to New York every year with hopes of landing a role in a Broadway musical. It is a loving tribute to those "gypsies" and the passion they bring to the craft. The emotional roller coaster ride of joy, anguish and triumph, reminds us that, win or lose, life goes on.

Marvin Hamlisch's melodies skillfully mix razzle dazzle with a bit of '70s pop, and Edward Kleban's lyrics have lost none of their eloquence. The book by Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood is still an ingenious phenomenon that blends all of the characters into one potent stream of awareness.

Bob Avian has found the best talent to portray the dancers and singers. Especially outstanding is Jason Tam playing Paul, the insecure dancer who tells of growing up gay and working professionally as a drag queen. His narrative, presented softer then prior actors I have seen, is emotionally heartrending.

Natalie Cortez as the street-smart Diana Morales is especially poignant when singing "What I Did For Love," with the cast joining in at the end of the song. Deidre Goodwin is the first African-American I have seen play the sarcastic Sheila. She is tall and stately and a sensual being. She is not as bitchy as prior Sheilas I have seen, but I agree with Zach when he tells her, "You got too much attitude". This could be considered a change from the prior productions that have been presented. She is wonderful when singing and dancing "At the Ballet" with Alisan Porter as Bebe and Mara Davi joining in on the song.

Jeffrey Schecter offers a breezy and positive spin to "I Can Do That" with some great dance moves. Michael Berresse makes a good Zach, especially in the last scene with Paul. Chryssie Whitehead as Kristine and Tony Yazbeck as Al are delightful when they are singing the mirthful "Sing!" and Jessica Lee Goodwin as Val makes a great impression when singing "Dance: Ten, Looks; Three." E. Clayton Cornelious as Butch does a brief rap type number that is lively and full of energy. Michael Paternostro as Greg gives a fun performance describing a hot smooching act in the back of a car with the opposite sex. It was then that he realized he is a homosexual.

Outstanding is Charlotte d'Amboise as Cassie, who brings back the brilliance of this musical in "Music and the Mirror." This ten-minute sequence of superb dancing is a dazzling showstopper. She really brings the pathos of Cassie home.

A very poignant and heartbreaking moment comes toward the end of the musical when Zach must choose eight of the group for the Broadway show being cast. One man in the audience on opening night yelled, "Keep all of them." My sentiments exactly.

A Chorus Line's ensemble gels beautifully and all are special. Michael Bennett and Bob Avian's choreography looks as magnificent as ever. "One" remains the most affecting, heart-pounding finale I have ever seen. There were tears in my eyes just watching these fabulous dancers going through the intricate moves in the dazzling number.

When leaving the theatre, I bumped into Marvin Hamlisch and I said that the show should win the Best Revival award at the Tonys next year. Being a very modest man, he just smiled.

A Chorus Line will run through September 2nd at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained online at www.shnsf.com or through Ticketmaster at 415-512-7770, at ticketmaster com. and at all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers and the Curran box office. You can also get tickets at the Orpheum Box Office at 1192 Market at 8th, San Francisco.

Best of Broadway is also presenting Adam Guettel's The Light In the Piazza at the Orpheum Theatre.


Photo: Paul Kolnik


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

- Richard Connema



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