You gotta love theatre that respects the intelligence of the audience but still manages to show them a good time.
There’s always somewhere to look in Signature Theatre’s new production of A Chorus Line, directed by Matthew Gardiner and going on until January 5. There’s Denis Jones’s fabulous choreography, of course, which is eye-catching in the extreme. And Adam Honore’s A+ lighting design darting emotively around Jason Sherwood’s less-is-more set offers plenty worth seeing. But there’s also the cast of dancers, each of whom gives their character so much internal life it’s like watching 18 different stories woven together. Neither small parts, nor small actors. So careful not to let your gaze linger too long on any of these young and pretty performers — you could miss a key, but small, moment from one of the others.
One of those “shows about putting on a show,” Chorus Line takes place during a single audition for a Broadway play, with all the hang-wringing, nervous sweating, and posturing that goes into one. There will be painful cuts — and hard-won victories. There will also be a bang-up rendition of “One,” as in the number of singular sensations.
Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s 1975 musical, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, is dated in places, like thin spots on a beloved sweater, though other messages on sex and sexuality sadly ring true to this day. This staging is of the opinion that if they keep the bell-bottoms, they don’t have cut lines like “what do Puerto Ricans know about theatre?”
That wince-inducing line comes from Jeff Gorti (as Paul), one of a cast who each practically deserves their own review. If Gorti, who gets the show’s longest monologue, doesn’t break your heart, you might not have one. Or perhaps it was just already broken by Emily Tyra’s Cassie, so eloquent in motion as an experienced dancer seeking one last shot. Or by Samantha Marisol Gershman, whose spunky, witty Diana soars with “What I Did for Love.”
Maria Rizzo is so damn good as Shelia it’s tough to believe she’d ever fail an audition, unless, that is, she was judged to have too much star quality for the chorus. Realest of all is Bryan Charles Moore’s Don: He reminded me of at least four different actors I know. Trevor Michael Schmidt and Phil Young are like twin balls of energy, hurling themselves around the stage as men whose lives practically skated into the dance world. Kayla Pecchioni has the voice of an angel; Daxx Jayroe Wieser has poise and grace to burn; Lina Lee deserves much bigger parts … Ack! I’ll never mention them all!
They’re wonderful. They’re all wonderful.
In theatre, they sometimes refer to a show as a “singer’s musical” or an “actor’s musical,” based on what skills it really leans on or highlights. But this dancer’s musical is simply full of top-rate actors and singers. You might say the show itself is a triple threat.