Review | A CHORUS LINE at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review | A CHORUS LINE at Porchlight Music Theatre

Pictured (L to R): Erica Evans, Aalon Smith, and  Liz Conway. Photo by Michael Courier.

By Elizabeth Ellis

Nearly forty-four years ago, the gifted late director and choreographer Michael Bennett changed the sound, look, and feel of American musical theatre forever with his groundbreaking concept musical, A CHORUS LINE.

The story is simple: seventeen dancers are auditioning for roles in a Broadway musical. By revealing themselves in interior monologues and songs, we learn about the myriad reasons they chose to become dancers, how they feel about dance, and their hopes, dreams, and fears about their personal and professional futures. All this happens on a bare stage, with rotating black and mirrored panels upstage and their dance gear off to the sides. With no sets nor fancy costumes (until the final number), all we have are the dancers and their stories.

With the Tony Award-winning score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban and Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, A CHORUS LINE has woven itself into the fabric of American culture. In Porchlight Music Theatre’s stellar new production (directed with great heart and humor by Brenda Didier, Christopher Chase Carter’s sparkling and fantastic choreography, and cast with all local talent), A CHORUS LINE shows that even more than four decades in our collective consciousness, this musical still shines, still offers surprises, still makes us feel.

It’s New York City, 1975. Under the watchful eye of the intimidating director/choreographer Zach (the formidable Richard Strimer) and his assistant choreographer Larry (the marvelous Wade Tischhauser), the dancers assemble onstage to learn their routines for the audition, and polish them as quickly as possible. Zach will choose only four and four: four boys, four girls. Only a few dancers are cut in the first round of auditions, despite all the nervousness and self-flagellation the dancers share in the song “I Hope I Get It.” We begin to see the individuality of each dancer, breaking the idea of one corps of dancers into its individual components. The dancers all share humorous and slightly embarrassing accounts of the evolution of their bodies and libidos into puberty in “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” The company unites at the end for “What I Did for Love” and “One,” despite learning who are the lucky eight going on to rehearsal and performance.

While the entire cast displays charm as well as considerable acting and dancing chops, several performers stand out. Sheila, Bebe, and Maggie (Erica Evans, Liz Conway, and Aalon Smith, respectively) show both beauty and pain as they reflect on their early training in “At the Ballet”; Val (Natalie Welch) hilariously displays her considerable and savvy non-dance investments in “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” and Cassie (Laura Savage), Zach’s former paramour, shares the anxiety and anguish at maybe taking a professional backward step from soloist to chorus member again in “The Music and the Mirror.”

If you think you know A CHORUS LINE because you’ve listened to the soundtrack a thousand times, or saw it back in the day, see it again at Porchlight. You will be delighted and affected by this wonderful production—and don’t forget to bring some tissues.

A CHORUS LINE runs through May 31st. For more information visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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