If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“A Chorus Line” Ends Playhouse Season
Give them an “A” for effort. That would be for the Playhouse on Park and their challenging, season-ending production of “A Chorus Line”. Michael Bennett’s landmark 1975 classic is currently being squeezed into the Playhouse’s cozy environs. Give directors Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller (who is also the show’s choreographer) credit for taking a chance and getting pretty good results in the process.
With book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, “A Chorus Line” was the “Hamilton” of its day: a groundbreaking musical that changed all the rules and became a must-see blockbuster. Its stripped-down stage framed by upstage mirrors gave dramatic purpose to the stories from a variety of professional dancers all vying for a role in a new Broadway show. That was the simple plot, but the true-life experiences gave each character a history that made you care for their fates. And at the Playhouse, a number of good actors do justice to these roles.
Only two in the large company (Eric S. Robertson as Zach and Michelle Pruiett as Cassie) are members of Actors Equity with the remaining 20+ non-pros. Chief among these is Bobbi Barricella whose Diana gets arguably two of the best songs in the show, “Nothing”, and the musical’s anthem, “What I Did for Love”. Barricella is in fine form for both, but one questions why the directors decided to have her share so much of the latter song with the rest of the cast. Robertson has commanding authority as Zach, the company’s director who is usually an offstage voice for much of the musical. At the Playhouse, however, he has been relegated by the directors front and center and not always to the character’s best advantage. The “mystery” of Zach adds another dimension to the show giving him a godlike quality. That dissipates when you see Robertson smiling and on the same level with his actors throughout the show.
Andee Buccheri is a bundle of raw energy as Val whose “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” is a delicious comic ode to the joys of plastic surgery. Ronnie Bowman’s vibrant Richie is a standout in “Hello Twelve” while a cherubic Alex Polzun, cast seriously against type, delights with an expert back flip during “I Can Do That”. I also enjoyed Tracey Mellon’s dry delivery as Sheila, the oldest chorus girl in the bunch, with a recommendation that she could still take stronger ownership of the role and really sell those snappy rejoinders. Tino Ardiente is a sensitive, soft-spoken Paul saddled with the musical’s somewhat dated and very sad monologue about being gay. The plum role of Cassie, Zach’s former lover, was played by understudy Anna Russell at the performance I caught. Russell gave it a game effort, but it is not a role she fits comfortably.
In addition to the questionable directorial choices already noted, it has to be said that presenting “A Chorus Line” on a thrust stage, as it is here, doesn’t always work in the musical’s best interest. If you don’t want to watch a lot of actor profiles, you’d be advised to secure seats in the center section of the theatre. Zoller’s choreography works and seems to have been adjusted a bit to fit the confines of the limited space. One expects that more precision within the company will occur over the run. In all, this is a solid production for the plucky West Hartford Theatre and an admirable way to end a successful season.
“A Chorus Line” continues at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through July 31. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.523.5900 or visit: www.playhouseonpark.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.