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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

A Chorus Line
Stages St. Louis

Stages St. Louis has begun their twenty-fifth season with a high-octane production of A Chorus Line, featuring a cast largely imported from New York headed up by Broadway veteran Jessica Lee Goldyn, reprising her performance as Cassie in the New York revival of the show. This show has a special place in Stages' history. It is the only show they've done three times, and it was the first—back in 1988—for which they needed a "sold out" sign.

This time, director Michael Hamilton and choreographer Kim Shriver have tried to recreate as closely as possible the staging and dancing from the original production. The costumes too—if memory serves—are very close to the designs from the original.

It is interesting to remember how gritty this show is. It had its origin in real experiences, as collected and explored workshop-style by Broadway dancers working with Michael Bennett. The joys of the profession are great, but the problems, from the insanely competitive auditions for the few available jobs to the debilitating physical and emotional demands that cut careers short, are too often overwhelming.

The best things about this third Stages version of A Chorus Line are its great energy and the precision of the ensemble work, as we have come to expect from Michael Hamilton's shows. Individual standouts include newcomers William Carlos Angulo as the tragic Paul; Hilary Michael Thompson as Kristine, who can't sing, and Jeffrey Scott Stevens as her husband Al, probably the sanest character on the stage; and Vanessa Sonon as the surgically enhanced Val, whose number "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" is the comic highlight of the evening. Jessica Vaccaro, as Diana, gets some of the evening's best vocal moments, and makes the most of them, especially in "What I Did For Love."

Miss Goldyn deserves the show-stopping applause which greeted her solo dancing in "The Music and the Mirror," the show's most intensely emotional passage.

Opening night jitters, perhaps, accounted for the uncertain pitch of some of the singing; this was especially noticeable in "At the Ballet," but plagued some later numbers as well. Some individual acting performances, too, were uncertain. David Elder, a veteran Stages hand who has given us memorable performances in Cabaret and Crazy For You, among others, seemed uncomfortable as Zach, coming across as simply angry instead of authoritative and demanding. Kimberley Wolff, as Shiela, and Leigh Wakeford, as Bobby, were too broad too often.

Technically, this production is nearly flawless; the design is simple but effective, and costumes, sets and lighting work seamlessly together, with the single exception of the battery packs for the wireless microphones, which make unfortunate bulges in some of the rather form-fitting costumes.

All in all, this production is a worthy beginning to a gala season for Stages, who have brought so much great theater to us for so many years. The show is presented through July 3 at the Robert G. Reim Theater in the Kirkwood Civic Center. For ticket information, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.

A Chorus Line
Conceived, Originally Directed and Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Produced by Stages St. Louis
Direction and Musical Staging re-created by Michael Hamilton
Original Choreography recreated by Kim Shriver


-- Robert Boyd

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