A Chorus Line? In the round? Really?
This is what I thought when I first read Marriott’s 2010 season. Naturally I was curious how they would adapt this 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning show about dancers auditioning for the part in a Broadway chorus – which features iconic, athletic choreography by the great, late Michael Bennett — for a round stage.
Choreographer Rachel Rockwell, whom I’ve known for her epic productions of big musicals such as Ragtime and Miss Saigon at Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, had the task of adapting Bennett’s movement for this production. And, well, she’s adapted it. But does it work?
Well…yes. But mostly, no.
Take for example the three “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” montages that build up to “Gimme the Ball.” She blends the movement together so it resembles a crazy clusterfuck of wild, angular emotions that explodes from the center of the stage – completely appropriate for the adolescent discoveries each dancer reveals in this segment.
However, the lovely Mara Davi (who starred as Maggie the original 2006 Broadway revival) as Cassie is undermined by the staging for her big number, “The Music and the Mirror.” To recreate that famous “mirror dance,” two-way mirrors drop down around the perimeter of the stage. It’s a cool effect (it gives off that neato reflection-upon-reflection-to-infinity illusion), but placing a wall between us and the dancer alienates us from her performance. Not only that, it makes a stage that’s already rather small for bust-out choreography even smaller, forcing her to literally run around in circles to fruitlessly build up the requisite energy. At the end, Davi was naturally dizzy, and literally fell out of her final iconic pose on press night.
Even more problematic, when the dancers form the line, there’s a 50/50 chance you’re looking at dancer butts (which may not be a bad thing). And when the dancers deliver their monologues to Zach, who’s apparently up in some imaginary balcony, they just randomly pick a focal point to talk. It’s disorienting.
So, I think you get that I’m not a fan of the staging. Try as they might, it just does not work. And they really tried. Also, I get the economic needs to sell drinks during a show, but inserting an intermission in a show that was explicitly created without one is frustrating to me.
All that aside, director Mark Lococo mines some very good performances from this young cast. Particularly Anika Ellis as Sheila (the bitch), Nina Fluke as Val (“tits and ass” girl), Pilar Millhollen as Morales (she nails her two big songs: “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”), and Bryan Knowlton as Paul (his gut-wrenching monologue, though rushed, is delivered quite effectively). You genuinely really care for all 17 of the dancers by the end of the evening, and feel bad when nine of them get cut.
While this production is flawed in a some significant ways, the strength of the piece and the performances make it worthwhile.
Sidenote: I took my mom, whom I made watch “Every Little Step” beforehand for preparation. She was glad to have watched that documentary to get the back story on the development of this landmark piece — it helped her appreciate it more. I recommend you watch it, too.
“A Chorus Line” plays through Oct. 31 at the Marriott Theatre. More info here >