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A Chorus Line

The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play about putting showbiz dreams "on the line" has a revival at Chance Theater.

The cast of A Chorus Line, directed by Oanh Nguyen, at Chance Theater.
(© Doug Catiller)

It's been 40 years since we first heard them, and these stories about the lives of anonymous Broadway extras no longer feel eye-opening. That said, who among us can't relate to the urgent need to chase a dream? And certainly with numbers like "One," "What I Did for Love" and "Hello Twelve" in its lineup, Marvin Hamlisch's marvelous score is timeless.

As beloved as A Chorus Line remains in the musical-theater pantheon, the Pulitzer Prize winner doesn't easily shake off its datedness. So if you're not invested in those 17 desperate dancers with every drop of sweat and footfall they expend trying to win a spot on the "line," the show is DOA, great songs and all.

Oanh Nguyen's revival for Chance Theater is plenty alive, and it contains all the right variables. His company of 25 performs on a stage that is wide and shallow, placing the action right up in our faces. The stage has a piano, a small bank of mirrors, and nothing else. The ensemble players who don't make the first cut after "I Hope I Get It" stay on the sidelines and provide vocal backup.

The configuration and intimacy of Chance's Cripe Stage insures that, no matter where you sit, you'll catch the details of tone-deaf Kristine's nerves, Sheila's contempt, Paul's fear, and Richie's joy. Director Zach (played by Ben Green) is no amplified voice of God from an unseen high balcony. At this audition, he's asking intrusive questions or barking out routine corrections from a desk stationed a few rows back in the house.

Nguyen's cast is youthful, and several of the players don't look like they should have the physical or emotional mileage that this group is supposed to have carried. That's not such a problem here since Nguyen's company is loaded with strong dancers. Choreographer Hazel Clarke puts them through classic chorus routines, snatches of ballet, and plenty of free-form moves, all of which make the ensemble numbers pop. The acting is largely solid. It needs to be.

Taken from a series of interviews conducted by Michael Bennett, A Chorus Line, remember, shoehorns the stories of 17 individuals into a single two-hour evening. Zach has eight chorus spots to fill in a Broadway-bound musical – four boys, four girls – and by audition's end, he fills them. Some people get solos. Others get bits of a monologue or a few lines during montages. The most fleshed out tale of James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante's book is the return of Cassie (Tatiana Alvarez), Zach's former lover, now looking for a place in the chorus after failing to make it as a star. A still-wounded Zach, who plucked her from the line years ago, is reluctant to bring her back to obscurity. To his mind, she's too good for the line.

Cassie just wants to dance. "Give me a job, and the rest of the crap will get solved," she sings in "The Music and the Mirror." Alvarez nicely blends the character's passion and pragmatism. She dances muscularly and is certainly a sight to behold in the red leotard that is practically the character's signature outfit. Indeed, all of the '70s-era dancewear assembled by costume designer Bradley Lock is period specific without making the characters look dorky.

Alvarez and Green don't generate believable chemistry (or toxicity) in their one extended scene together, with Green coming across more as a petulant bully than a spurned lover. Similarly, Green's overly effusive reaction to hearing Paul's story of his days as a drag dancer feels out of left field. When – and why — did this director get so sensitive? For his part, Xavier Castaneda gives Paul a healthy dose of openness and optimism. This is a character who, despite his choices, is ashamed of nothing.

The production's women are especially strong. Victoria Rafael, vamping her way through Val's plastic surgery ode, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," takes gleeful delight whenever she gets to utter the word "tits." Camryn Zelinger both nails Sheila's tough broad façade and cracks it open during the "At the Ballet" trio. Nice touch that when Sheila takes down her hair at Zach's insistence, the ends are a defiant shade of violet. Anchoring both "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love," Angeline Mirenda's Dina Morales boasts one of the company's strongest voices.

Nguyen, music director Ryan O'Connell, and choreographer Clarke do excellent work with the group numbers and montages. Intimate space or otherwise, everyone is back onstage in sparkly golden top hats and tails for the final rendition of "One." It's a great finale for a show that still packs a punch.