‘A Chorus Line’ at Porchlight

Adrienne Storrs as Diana Morales in Porchlight Music Theatre’s “A Chorus Line.” Photo credit: Michael Courier

It’s hard to think of a show more iconic than A Chorus Line. Michael Bennett’s athletic, razzle-dazzle touch is all over it. Marvin Hamlisch’s pulsating score is peppered with tunes that have become nested in our pop culture. Even the costumes are part and parcel to the show.

I mean: You need Cassie’s Red Dress to have a proper Chorus Line.

The show endures because it’s both of its time and timeless. It’s specific to a dancer’s life and experience, and tells a universal story about putting oneself on the line to achieve something.

In other words, we don’t need to be able to do an arabesque or a high kick to connect with A Chorus Line.

My first experience with the show was, as a teen, the woefully misguided film adaptation. I eventually came to my senses, but have only seen one other production — at the Marriott Theatre back in 2010. A wholly professional effort, but this show shouldn’t be staged in the round. And, in a more egregious sin, they inserted an intermission.

Porchlight, under the direction of Brenda Didier, brings us a Chorus Line packed with grit, drive and spirit. It honors the iconography of the original, but without feeling like a carbon copy. It’s both rough around the edges and crackling with energy.

Sure, some of the actors in this youthful ensemble feel a bit too green to fully own the heady book work, and the finale costumes need some serious tailoring for the boys. But there are so many outstanding moments, including Alejandro Fonseca, who powerfully delivers Paul’s heartbreaking monologue, Adrienne Storrs, who brings great humanity to Diana Morales, and Erica Evans, who makes for an ideal Sheila. And the music direction backed by a fierce band (the drummer was on FIRE) made my heart pump a little faster.

Bennett’s choreography (recreated by Chris Carter) nearly spills out of the Ruth Page Center’s intimate stage. Seriously: I waited for the chorus to punt a few gobos into the audience during the finale. But that just goes to show that silly space limitations didn’t deter Porchlight’s creative team from delivering the goods.

I mean, I got all the goosebumps during the brilliant and momentous montage segment. 

Also, we need to talk about Cassie – the former star who’s now looking for work in the chorus. While Laura Savage may read a bit too young for Cassie, she earns her credibility by knocking “Music and the Mirror” out of Chicago’s Gold Coast. Much like any musical theater nerd worth his salt, I’ve watched all the MATM compilations on YouTube. While no one can touch the OG Cassie, Donna McKechnie, there are clear front runners. And a lot if it has to do with pacing. Bennett and McKechnie created a showstopper that fit her abilities like a glove. The result was electrifying and effortless. She flew. Every other dancer has been tasked with recreating this magic – with some minor modifications to the movement. Regardless, it’s as if some dancers lose steam and barely make it to the final pose, thus deflating arguably the biggest moment in the show.

I’m no dancer, but it seemed to me Carter found ways to augment the movement so Savage could own the moment right up to the bitter end. Simply thrilling.

I’d have been on my feet at the end if I’d the opportunity. Bennett, in all his brilliance, deprives us of a traditional curtain call (a moment which Porchlight honors here, as well as presenting the show without an intermission). Rather, we applaud the performers as they dutifully execute the highly stylized choreography. And at the final beat, the house lights are up and the show is over. To me, this is Bennett both trying to not break the tension he’s so masterfully constructed, and reminding us that despite the two hours we’ve been hearing these artists pour their souls onto the stage, working ensemble dancers are, in many ways, cogs in the modern Broadway machine. Highly skilled and essential, but nameless and ultimately replaceable.

And if that’s not an allegory of our current labor situation in America, I don’t know what is.

Wow – that was heady. At any rate, don’t miss Porchlight’s singularly sensational A Chorus Line.

“A Chorus Line” plays through Friday, May 31 at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts. More info here >


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