“A Singular Sensation"
By Geary Danihy
There’s an upside and a downside to Playhouse on Park’s current production of A Chorus Line, which opened on Friday, June17 and runs through July 31. The upside is that for most of the evening you are there, up close and personal, in a rehearsal studio, watching the dancers go through their steps while handling their emotions, most of which have to do with hoping to be cast in an upcoming production and questioning why they have chosen this particular profession.
Given the venue’s intimacy, you see the sweat, both physical and metaphorical, and it makes for a visceral understanding of the life of the theatrical gypsies, those in the chorus line who travel from one show to another, always in the background. Essentially, you are the casting director, evaluating and pondering the possibilities as the hopefuls tell their stories, often revealing more about themselves than they mean to. The downside is that the “big finish,” the final number, calls out for the breadth and depth of a Broadway stage, a distancing that the Playhouse just can’t provide.
Fortunately, save for the final number, this is essentially an intimate show built on vignettes, and it is here that the Playhouse’s thrust stage provides an excellent frame for the talent that directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller have brought together.
As you enter the house prior to curtain, many of the cast members are already on stage warming up, just as they would prior to an audition or show. They are called to order by Zach (Eric S. Robertson) and, in the opening number, are taught steps for one of the numbers in the show for which they are auditioning (“I Hope I Get It”). Zach then asks them to tell him a little about themselves, and thus begins the set-pieces that are the heart of the show.
First up is Alex Polzun playing Mike, a young man who proclaims “I Can Do That,” and he does. He doesn’t look like a dancer, but first impressions can be deceiving. He’s light on his feet and, wonder of wonders, acrobatic. His number is quickly followed by probably the most poignant moment in the show, “At the Ballet,” in which Sheila (Tracey Mellon), Bebe (Kayla Starr Bryan) and Maggie (the appropriately haughty Sarah Kozlow) reminisce about their childhood experiences with ballet lessons, lessons that served as a diversion from the darker aspects of their young lives. It’s a lovely, extended ballad touchingly performed by the three actresses.
There are several standout moments during the evening, and Bobbi Barricella is involved in two of them. She absolutely nails “Nothing,” a song that details her travails at a performing arts high school under the tutelage of a draconian teacher, and then kicks off “What I Did for Love,” the show’s signature tune.
Then there’s Mallory Cunningham as Kristine, who explains her tone deafness in “Sing,” assisted by Jeremy Seiner as her husband, Al. It’s a wonderfully comedic moment that is enhanced by Cunningham’s body language (you get the feeling she just might have been the class clown in high school), and Cunningham and Seiner have their timing down perfectly. It demanded an “Encore!”
Saving the best for last, there’s Andee Buccheri, who is making her professional debut. She plays Val, a young lady who discovered that if she wanted to get ahead she had to attend to her “tits and ass,” mainly because at an audition she caught sight of her dance card, which stated: “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three.” She’s a compact dynamo who sells the number with verve and a great deal of unabashed delight.
Finally, we have Michelle Pruiett playing Cassie, a dancer who broke out of the chorus line only to fall on hard times and is now looking for a job. “The Music and the Mirror” is the showcase number of the show, and Pruiett delivers, giving the dance number a certain desperate, almost frantic quality that conveys just how much Cassie needs this job. It’s vibrant and gripping, all the more so because it happens mere feet from the audience members sitting in the first row.
If you have aspiring thespians in the house, this is the show you should take them to (“tits and ass” notwithstanding -- trust me, they won’t be shocked). Perhaps no other venue in Connecticut, save for Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk, offers the audience such a close-up look of actors plying their trade. You can’t phone in a performance at the Playhouse, and this cast doesn’t.
As for the final number, well, it’s meant to be BIG, and it is, given the constraints of the theater. Zoller, as choreographer, has used the space she’s been given. Would that the theater’s walls could have magically disappeared and the house risers bearing the audience been pulled back, but that wasn’t going to happen (just imagine if it had!).
All in all, this is a smart, sophisticated production of a Broadway classic, with a stellar cast of young actors who don’t miss a beat...or a step. Backed by an eight-piece orchestra that sounds bigger than it is, A Chorus Line entertains and, at moments, entrances...and it also gives you insight into the lives of people who, for one reason or another, have opted to respond to the siren’s call of “Gotta Dance!”
A Chorus Line runs through July 31. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X10, or go to www.playhouseonpark.org