Enjoyable “Chorus Line” at Playhouse on Park

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Photo by Meredith Atkinson

By Karen Isaacs

 A Chorus Line is a classic ensemble musical that benefits with a young cast. It is getting a fine production at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through July 31.

The show centers on a group of “gypsies,” the term for Broadway dancers who go from show to show, seldom having speaking parts. Yet they are expected to be able to sing and to dance spectacularly.

The show opens with a group of such dancers learning a dance routine as part of the audition process. A disembodied voice – the director/choreographer – then asks them to go through the routine in various groups. The dancers all want and need this job. Soon though, some are cut and the remaining 16 (eight men, eight women) are left to continue the audition; only eight will be hired.

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Eric S.Robinson and Spencer Pond. Photo by Meredith Atkinson

But this director wants something more. He doesn’t just want to see them dance or sing; he wants them to talk about themselves: how they came dancing, why they dance, what they will do when they can no longer dance. It’s an uncomfortable experience for most of them and they are reluctant to comply. It means revealing a part of themselves that may have been hidden for years.

Slowly, over the course of the two hour, intermissionless show, they do reveal the details of their lives. Some may try to “act” or create what they think he wants, but most come to tells us what appears to be the truth.

We hear from the women (Sheila, Bebe, Maggie) who were drawn to dance because of the unhappy marriages of their parents and the lack of love they felt from their fathers. Mike tells us how while watching his older sister’s dance class, he realized “I Can Do That.” Then there are the men who knew they were gay but struggled with acceptance.

The Pulitzer Prize winning musical, was conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. During an extended workshop period, gypsies sat around and talked about their lives both on the stage and off. From that material James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante fashioned the book and Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics) wrote the score.

Several emotional stories emerge. Paul (played touchingly by Tino Ardiente) is a young Puerto Rican dancer who is on the verge of succeeding. He story about working in a drag show and how his parents reacted, will surely lead to a few damp eyes.

Then there is Cassie, the role originally played (and most say based on Donna Mckechnie).

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Michelle Pruiett. Photo by Rich Wagner

Cassie and the director, Zach, have had a romantic relationship. She tried to move on from being a gypsy to more substantial roles, but she failed and now she is both desperate for a job and comfortable with the idea that this is the most she can do. Zach has difficulty accepting both her failure and her desire to be cast as a back-up dancer to a star.

Directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller did outstanding work with this cast which includes many college students with limited experience. But they have most of the cast working as a seamless unit. Each of the final sixteen dancers create specific characters at all times.

Credit must also be given to music directors Emmett Drake and Michael Morris for the presentation of the many musical numbers. The voices sound good and the diction is also excellent; you can hear the lyrics.

Darlene Zoller choreographed the show with assistance from Spencer Pond. They have taken inspiration from the Bennett choreography and created their own numbers. Of course, they had to keep the basic look of the finale, “One,” It is just too iconic to be changed; the audience would feel cheated.

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Photo by Rich Wagner

For once, the large square playing space with the two pillars at the front corners is actually totally appropriate for the show. It looks like any dance rehearsal room. Scenic designer Christopher Hoyt cleverly added narrow mirrors on each the three sides so that audience members sitting on the sides could look at those.

Lisa Steir, the costume designer provided the rehearsal selection of leotards and other dance gear. The costumes for the finale unfortunately looked cheap. Particularly for the men, I’ve seen similar outfits at the multiple dance recitals I’ve attended for grandchildren. It took away from the wow factor.

In this show in particular, the role of Zach and Cassie are important; theirs is the story that drives the show.  Eric S. Robertson gives us a Zach who is tough but also concerned about his dancers. His reaction to Cassie reflects a multitude of emotions.

Michelle Pruiett is excellent as Cassie. She shows her strength and self-knowledge that has been hard-earned yet she is not bitter, but accepting. She is survivor.

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Mallory Cunningtham. Photo by Meredith Atkinson.

Many others in the cast deserve praise: Tracey Mellon as Sheila, Alex Polzun as Mike, Ronnie Bowman, Jr. as Richie, Mark Jacob Weinstein as Greg, and Spencer Pond as Larry, Zach’s assistant.

This is a production of A Chorus Line that you should go see.  It is at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Rd, West Harford, through July 31. For tickets visit PlayhouseonPark.org.


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