Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
This season at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), two musicals which debuted just one year apart make up the Mainstage lineup, but they couldn't be more different. Mack and Mabel, which will be presented in March 2017, is old school Jerry Herman. Their current offering, A Chorus Line, on the other hand, helped to usher in the modern age of musicals. CCM provides an extremely well performed, traditionally staged mounting of A Chorus Line in a very satisfying overall production.
A Chorus Line follows a group of seventeen dancers who make it to the next-to-last cut to be cast in the chorus of a Broadway musical. Director Zach is satisfied with each as a dancer, but needs to narrow the group down to eight. He asks them to tell something meaningful about themselves to provide some additional insight on their personalities. The dancers tell stories of artistic struggles, broken family situations, sexual awakening, and much more along the way. One of the dancers, Cassie, is Zach's ex-lover, which makes the choice even more complicated.
As conceived by Michael Bennett, the musical was based on a set of taped discussions and interviews with real Broadway dancers about their experiences. James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante turned the recordings of these sessions into the book of A Chorus Line. The story has dramatic bite, a good balance of tension and comedy, as well as heartbreak and hope. It's a decidedly adult show, but one which provides deep insight into the challenges of making it in show business, and contains varied and realistically drawn characters. The score by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics) is now a classic, and includes such well-known songs as "One," "What I Did for Love," "At the Ballet," and "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three." "I Hope I Get It" is an ideal opening number for the show, propelling the action immediately with energy and accurately setting the atmosphere of the show to come.
CCM director/choreographer Diane Lala recreates Michael Bennett's original staging, as well as Bennett and Bob Avian's iconic dances, with great skill and care. She has prepared her cast well, and also ensures committed performances. Evan Roider led the great sounding 17-piece orchestra at the performance attended, in support of musical director Roger Grodsky.
The collegiate cast shows themselves to be true triple threat performers. All of the dancing is sharp and cohesive, executed with full energy. It's difficult to call out the best performers since they are all rather exceptional, but standouts include Areo Keller (a sweet and splendidly sung Maggie), Christopher Kelly (a vocally strong and heartbreaking Paul), Emily Kristen Morris (a very funny Judy), Casey Wenger-Schulman (a multi-layered Diana), Hamilton Moore (an assertive Zach), Paul Schwensen (a supportive and strongly sung Al), and Philip Johnson-Richardson (a full-throttle Richie). As Cassie, Kimberly Pine captures the world weariness of a down-on-her-luck former Broadway dancer trying to restart her career, and dances the powerhouse "The Music and the Mirror" with intense energy and apt desperation.
CCM's A Chorus Line is traditionally designed in line with the Broadway production and most subsequent productions. Scenic designer Matthew D. Hamel uses the single white line, a mirrored back wall (sometimes covered), and a few smaller mirrors for "The Music and the Mirror." The lighting by Jeremy Dominik and sound by Michael Einsenberg are skillfully executed. The fun costumes by Lindi-Joy Wilmot capture the 1970s setting during the auditions, and offer the expected gold and sequined outfits for the closing number.
A Chorus Line has a lot in common with the hottest show on Broadway right now, Hamilton. Both were developed Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre, won numerous Tony Awards including Best Musical, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for musicals. CCM's production is skillfully helmed, performed, and designed, and is a wonderful example of this show in its traditional form.
A Chorus Line continues at CCM, Patricia Corbett Theater, CCM Village, University of Cincinnati, through October 30, 2016. For more information, visit www.ccm.uc.edu.