Matthew Reddin

Touring “Chorus Line” glittering, but gilded

The production, at the Milwaukee Theatre this weekend, shines bright, but it's hard to ignore its flaws.

By - Jan 6th, 2013 04:00 am

The Milwaukee Theatre hosted the national tour of “A Chorus Line” this weekend.

I can say I liked seeing the national tour of A Chorus Line at the Milwaukee Theatre, but I wish I didn’t have to say it so begrudgingly.

It’s not that the production fails in re-executing Michael Bennett’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical, which depicts the struggle of 17 dancers to earn one of eight spots in the chorus of a new musical. Tour director Baayork Lee, an original cast member, has staged the musical as a point-by-point recreation of the Broadway production. Her staging hits almost all of the show’s emotional touchstones with the expected force.

But it works only from a broad, overarching perspective: taken as a whole, it’s a suitable tribute to one of the most significant shows in musical theater. But look at any particular piece of the show too hard, and more often than not it’s gilded, not golden.

Take the dancing, which obviously had to be stellar. And it was. Sometimes. Most of the big group numbers worked (the tableaux from “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” particularly stood out). And the dancers pulled off the impressive trick of dancing just a little off on purpose in the rehearsal numbers, to make them look like rehearsals. But Cassie’s (Sophie Menas) big dance number, “The Music and the Mirror” – you know, the one where she wants to prove she deserves to be in the chorus – made me wonder if the intent was to bore on purpose, to show us she really isn’t the star Zach (Jeremiah Ginn) thinks she is.

Vocally, the show was just as uneven. Any time the chorus sang collectively, I held my breath, hoping for moments united in harmony, which occurred in “One” and, mercifully, “What I Did for Love.” More often, we got nightmarish dissonance with a side of static, thanks to at least one malfunctioning mike channel.  Sloppy audio mixing caused problems throughout. The accompaniment occasionally drowned out the cast. Zach – offstage for much of the show – was miked at two or three times volume while speaking to the cast, which frankly just got obnoxious.

But the moments when dancers stepped out of the line rang true. “At the Ballet” was strong enough as a solo bit by Brooke Morrison (Sheila), but it became transcendent when Bonnie Kelly (Bebe) and Bronwyn Tarboton (Maggie) joined her. Aisling Halpin (Val) was a knockout in the infamous “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three (Tits and Ass),” the show’s paean to plastic surgery. And Ashley Klinger and Nick Varricchio (married couple Kristine and Al) delivered a performance of “Sing!” that was exactly as manic, grating and adorable as it should have been.

Weighed after the fact, these good elements shouldn’t be quite enough to push A Chorus Line over the top. But they do. A string of little moments pierced enough to make you overlook the flaws. There’s Paul’s painfully raw monologue about performing in drag shows and discovering his masculinity, done with understated force by Alexander Cruz. Menas’ stricken but driven expression as Zach deliberately berates Cassie to force her to try to break away from the chorus again. Lauren Nicole Alaimo’s fiery spirit as Diana, and the look on her face when Zach changes his mind about which line she should be in and her world shatters in an instant.

So yeah, I liked A Chorus Line. It isn’t a production that has everything a tour for a show of this stature should have. But it is traveling with the heart of the show. That’s just enough.

Ed. Note: A prior version of this review mistakenly identified the actress playing the role of Cassie. Sophie Menas, not Caley Crawford, played the role both nights of the Milwaukee run. TCD regrets the erros, which have been corrected above.

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