Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1975, the plot of A Chorus Line portrays an audition for the dancing chorus of a Broadway show where Zach, the director/choreographer, auditions a group of over 20 hopefuls for the eight spots in his show. But before the eight are picked, Zach asks the dancers to talk about their lives. Topics they discuss include what their childhoods were like, why they wanted to become dancers, and what they would do if they couldn't dance anymore.
The beautiful book for the show by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, who crafted the contents of those intimate, revealing and autobiographical recordings that original director and choreographer Michael Bennett conducted, and the top-notch score from composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban provide characters and situations that just about anyone can connect to. There are also several classic showtunes in the score, including "What I Did for Love," "One," and "At the Ballet."
Director and choreographer Molly Lajoie has delivered a production that is an homage to Bennett's original version and choreography while also adding plenty of personal touches of her own. She has cast the production with a wide range of talent from across the Valley who expertly portray the vast range of personalities in the show, without a weak link in the entire group.
While A Chorus Line has a fairly large cast of characters, and there are around 20 that are present throughout almost the entire show, it is written so that each actor gets a moment or two in the spotlight, with several characters that also feature more prominently throughout. As Zach, the director/choreographer of the show being cast, Rob Watson has the right amount of strength, power and ego in his line readings, but we also see the uncertainty he has in deciding which of the dancers to hire. Kat Bailes is perfect as Cassie, Zach's former lover and the woman who made it out of the chorus years ago but is now back, desperate for a job. Her solo of "The Music and the Mirror" is a highlight.
As Paul, Trey DeGroodt is appropriately shy and quiet, with downcast eyes, and his hands always tucked inside his pockets like he's holding on to a security blanket. DeGroodt gets one of the main monologues in the show, where he talks about coming to terms with being gay and finally getting some form of acceptance from his father; he is superb in delivering this heartwrenching speech. Watson features prominently in scenes with both DeGroodt and Bailes, and these heavy dialogue scenes are infused with realism and heart by all three.
As Diana Morales, Shani Barrett's clear voice excels on the touching "What I Did for Love" and she instills the character with a huge amount of determination and truth that shines through in the song "Nothing," which tells the story about her acting teacher who underestimated her skills. Sarah Wiechman has the right amount of biting sarcasm and sass as the slightly older dancer Shiela, and along with the beautiful voices of Alexia Lorch and Kathlynn Rodin, delivers a stirring "At the Ballet." As Val, Sara Sanderson is hilarious but full of common sense as the woman who realized that in order to improve her job prospects she needed to get a small amount of plastic surgery, and Michael Schwenke shows off his fine tap skills as Mike, the man who fell in love with dancing at a young age. Also, the clarity of Joshua Vern's voice shines through in many moments.
Most of the creative elements are in line with, though not exactly carbon copies of, the original Broadway production, with the set composed of a large wall of mirrors at the back and Jessica Florez's costume designs evocative of the time period. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is one area where this production deviates from others I've seen and his additions are ,superb with the keen use of lighting to pinpoint and focus our attention with washes of colors that bring a rich tapestry of changing moods to the piece. Steve Hilderbrand's excellent music direction and conducting of the 15-piece orchestra bring a lush and full sound to the show.
Whether it be a difficult childhood, family problems, teen angst, body issues, or the simple joy of loving the profession you've chosen, the universality of the characters and themes of A Chorus Line don't just apply to dancers or performers. In some way, each of us can find a commonality with at least one, if not many, of the dancers on the stage and I believe that's why this show has been so successful and still resonates today. With a sensational cast, superb direction and creative elements, Theater Works' A Chorus Line is an excellent and solid production of this groundbreaking and classic show.
A Chorus Line, through March 4th, 2018, at Theater Works, 8355 West Peoria Avenue, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at theaterworks.org or by calling 623-815-7930
Directed and choreographed by Molly Lajoie