In 1975, A Chorus Line introduced a show-biz musical with a new perspective to the Broadway theatre canon. Since then it has been a staple in theatre songbooks across the country. Inspired by true stories, A Chorus Line is the day in the life of a Broadway audition where 16 dancers leave it all on the stage for one of eight coveted positions. Public schools, community theaters, and the largest performance halls have all had boxes of golden tuxedos sent through their doors for that one final show-stopping number. Director Brenda Didier is no stranger to the phenomenon. In Porchlight Theatre’s program for their production of A Chorus Line, Didier wrote that “once A Chorus Line has become a part of your life, it stays with you.” I have to agree. Wholeheartedly. Every production of A Chorus Line is both building off and working against that relationship the audience already has with this musical. Porchlight Theatre’s production gets lost somewhere in the middle and is a shadow of that one singular sensation.
A Chorus Line raises the voices of those we who usually live in the background. First as a group, then as numbers, then as individuals. Everyone has their moment, and some characters make a stronger impact than others. The sheer physical skill of all these performers is significant, but there is a degree of athleticism and acrobatics performed by Terrell Armstrong (Richie Walters) and Ayana Strutz (Connie Wong) in their respective solos that shock. These moments are featured in the most energizing number of the evening. “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” is a wonderful and awkward coming-of-age medley where everyone shares in the mutual embarrassment of adolescence.
The rest of the production struggles to find its rhythm. Irregular pacing and dead air within dialogue lengthen the time between dance numbers which in turn suffer. Without an energetic introduction, these songs that should transport us feel just a bit less spectacular, less introspective, less alive. That low energy also makes it less forgivable when some members of the cast underserve the musical’s demanding yet colorful score. The group numbers, however, are like a shot of adrenaline and the entire production benefits from this boost. It is when that momentum is unsuccessfully transferred to an individual that the pacing starts to lull.
Laura Savage is the exception to the pattern with a captivating performance as Cassie Ferguson, a dancer who has returned to the chorus line after a soul-crushing career stint in Hollywood. Savage is tasked with one of the most difficult numbers in the entire musical: a dance ballad with little song and zero support on the otherwise crowded stage. She serves the most passionate performances of the night and hits that final pose on a dime with stunning precision.
Porchlight’s production of A Chorus Line is all about the dancers, and this is emphasized by the design. Everyone is dressed in a hodgepodge of excruciatingly accurate 1970s dancewear curated by costume designer Robert S. Kuhn. As is the case with most 1970s design choices, some were a hit and some pieces were a miss. One dancer is dressed in this flesh-tone number that washes her out while another pops in a brilliant red wrap. Side and foot lighting (standards for dance performance) are a major element of Denise Karczewski’s lighting design.
This traditional dance lighting blended with a musical theatre spotlight combines two styles to accentuate the dancers while paying homage to the musical’s Broadway origins. Broadway spectacle is not lost on scenic designer Kristen Martino whose transformative design has three lives. First as the bare brick wall, then as one great mirror, and finally as a glittering backdrop for the big finish.
A Chorus Line is a musical that is consistently performed, and therefore it is worth wondering what a director will bring that’s different or specific to this production. It’s hard to find Brenda Didier’s signature. This production of A Chorus Line delivers a performance that lovers of the musical will still enjoy, but if you’re looking for that little something special Porchlight might leave you wanting.
A Chorus Line runs at Porchlight Music Theatre through May 31st.
Photography by Michael Courier.
Terrell Armstrong – Richie Walters
La Mar Brown – Roy
Grant Carriker – Al DeLuca
Liz Conway – Bebe Benzenheimer
Clayton Alan – Greg Gardner
Danielle Davila – Tricia
Erica Evans – Shelia Bryant
Alejandro Fonseca – Paul San Marco
Joe Giovannetti – Frank
Luke Halpern – Tom
Taylor Lane – Judy Turner
Maggie Malaney – Lois
John Marshall Jr., Don Kerr
Chloé Nadon-Enriquez – Kristine Urich DeLuca
Jenna Napolitano – Vicki
Kaimana Neil – Mark Anthony
Laura Savage – Cassie Ferguson
Aalon Smith – Maggie Winslow
Richard Strimer – Zach
Ayana Strutz, Connie Wong
Drew Tanabe – Bobby Mills
Wade Tischhauser – Larry
Adrienne Storrs – Diana Morales
Matthew Weidenbener – Mike Costa
Natalie Welch – Val Costa
Linda Madonia, Conductor/ Keyboard
Cara Hartz, Flute/ Clarinet/ Alto Sax/ Tenor Sax
Mike Matlock, Piccolo/ Flute/ Oboe/ English Horn/ Clarinet/ Alto Sax
Greg Strauss, Trumpet/ Flugelhorn
Stephane Lebens, Trombone
Jake Saleh, Bass
Carlos Mendoza, Drums/ Percussion
Brenda Didier, Director
Chris Carter, Choreography
Music Direction, Linda Madonia
Kristen Martino, Scenic Design
Robert S. Kuhn, Costume Design
Denise Karczewski, Lighting Design
Robert Hornbostel, Sound Design
Bek Lambrecht, Technical Direction
Mary Zanger, Production Stage Management
Katie Beeks, Production Management