By Barry Reszel
Really, “Twenty-three…singular sensations” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But nevertheless, that’s just what patrons of Porchlight’s terrific production of A Chorus Line are given. And make it twenty-five when counting in Richard Strimer among the “kids,” playing Director/Choreographer Zach and Wade Tischhauser as his able assistant Larry.
The 1976 nine-time Tony-winning musical (including Best Musical) that also took the Pultizer Prize for drama that year focuses on the audition of 23 dancers for a Broadway musical ensemble. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line is set on a barren theatre stage and delves into the personal stories of performers and the show’s director/choreographer as they detail what made them become dancers. (A full plot summary, character analysis and production history may be read here.)
At its core, A Chorus Line is about honoring one another’s truths. And as a community, at least in Chicago and its suburbs, musical theatre artists seem to do that exceptionally well. That’s not lost on Director Brenda Didier, who achieves maximum authenticity from from her stalwart cast while first-time directing the show that she says changed her life.
Didier calls A Chorus Line the musical that “gives dancers a voice.” But the truth is, there are 25 voices here. And they give credence not only to their shared craft, but moving introspection into their unique circumstances that bring them to this audition. By telling their stories, these artists reveal their hopes and passions alongside their jealousies and insecurities.
Magnificent vocals and an equally fine orchestra, courtesy of Musical Director Linda Madonia’s hard work, do lovely justice to the Hamlisch/Kleban songbook. Among general excellence in song and dance (kudos to Choreographer Christopher Chase Carter) there are certainly highlights, personal to all longtime fans of this title.
In addition to “One (Singular Sensation),” the song from A Chorus Line that became a well-known pop hit is, “What I Did for Love.” (Need a reminder? Here’s Josh Groban’s version.) That puts no small amount of pressure on the actor cast as Diana Morales, and Adrienne Velasco-Storrs comes out of casting central, so perfect is her rendition that leads into the powerful ensemble song. So, too, the tenderly reflective ballad “At the Ballet” is magnificently performed by Erica Evans, Liz Conway and Aalon Smith.
In truth, there are numerous highlight performances in this undeniably ensemble show. Though if there’s a lead, it belongs to the character of Cassie Ferguson, the former star who’s returning to the chorus line because she simply wants to work. Cassie is brilliantly portrayed at Porchlight by the gorgeous Laura Savage, she of dulcet voice and picturesque dance lines. While Savage is years away from being a one-time star returning to the chorus, this role shows her own resilience in coming to the heavy dance show just more than a year after ALC surgery. On the heels of another great lead performance (Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre) Savage has to be at the top of every casting director’s list.
Raw, gritty and honest until the costumes, makeup and bright lights combine for its magical Broadway finale, A Chorus Line, remains ever-poignant, even more than 40 years after it first opened. Porchlight’s version is more than a reminder of the past; it’s a testament to the voice of resilience, of hope and of what individuals do for love.
Porchlight Music Theatre presents “A Chorus Line” through May 31 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.