A Chorus Line – Review by Tom Holehan

Lots of credit to the Ivoryton Playhouse which is currently presenting a very worthy production of “A Chorus Line”, Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize winner from 1975. The venerable but modest theatre company has wanted to produce this modern classic for years and they have apparently waited long enough. While not quite Broadway-ready, the Playhouse has nonetheless cast and directed the ground-breaking Marvin Hamlisch musical (with lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante) with a strong sense of what has made the show such an enduring favorite.

Produced on a mostly bare stage and usually played without intermission (more on that later), the show takes place one long day at an audition as a group of “gypsies” all compete with each other for a few available roles. We learn the back-stories of these performers, some humorous, some very sad, and get to know and root for all of them to eventually succeed. That heart of “A Chorus Line” has been preserved at Ivoryton under director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood with only a few questionable choices.

The most dubious was the decision to insert an intermission presumably to offer a bathroom break and sell refreshments. But “A Chorus Line” was devised to be performed in real time and the impact is blunted by interrupting the real-life drama onstage with a break. As a result act two becomes tougher to kick into gear with a production that already has a few pacing problems. A show that usually clocks in at just under two hours, runs nearly 30 minutes longer at Ivoryton. In addition, the director’s choice to open the show with the actors arriving and greeting each other makes little sense in the context of the story which is written to begin mid-audition as the dancers are put through their paces.

But, in general, Underwood and company have done very well by “A Chorus Line” which remains one of the strongest productions I’ve ever seen at Ivoryton. The casting here is quite good with a mix of both Equity and non-union performers. Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr. is a standout as Richie who nearly stops the show as a featured performer in the terrific group number, “Hello Twelve”. As Cassie, the former star dancer trying to get back in the business, Stephanie Genito acts and sings the plum role with pure longing even as her dance solo in “The Music and the Mirror” (made famous by Donna Mckechnie) often lacks the speed and precision demanded. Natalie Madlon’s endearing Morales has two of the best songs in the show, “Nothing” and the iconic “What I Did For Love”, and doesn’t disappoint with either.

The seen-it-all Sheila is given great comic brio by Lili Thomas who also pairs memorably with Kayla Starr Bryan and Liv Kurtz for the beautiful ballad, “At the Ballet”. Sam Given is a laugh riot as Bobby whose stand-up routine about his wretched upbringing in Buffalo is a singular hoot. Alexa Racioppi, playing the surgery-enhanced Val, generates plenty of heat and physicality singing “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” even though she loses clarity with some of the funnier verses. As the director, Zach, Edward Stanley is rather low-key in a commanding role though he has plenty of good moments playing, basically, the voice of God out in the audience. A microphone would have helped, however.

Underwood and company had to modify some of the choreography to fit the Ivoryton stage, but nothing terribly distracting. Under conductor Michael Morris that great score suffers a little with the smallish orchestra but never to the detriment of the show. Marcus Abbott’s lighting is rather here and there and sometimes slow on cues and I wish costumer Kate Bruce had kept Cassie in the original flaming red dress instead of the muted burgundy she has the dancer wearing. With a show like “Chorus Line” details matter but, luckily, most of them are clearly on the money in Ivoryton.

A Chorus Line” continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Connecticut through September 2. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.767.7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Correction: An astute reader pointed out that my recent review of “Oliver!” at Goodspeed Opera House misidentified the gender of costume designer Alejo Vietti. The talented costumer is male.

Tom Holehan is one of the 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: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.