REVIEW: A Chorus Line (Marriott Theatre)

Gotta Dance!

 

Chorus Line at Marriott

   
Marriott Theatre presents
   
A Chorus Line
   
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Mark Lococo
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map)
Through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Mara Davi as Cassie - Chorus Line MarriottCelebrating its 35th anniversary in a terrific revival staged by Mark Lococo, A Chorus Line remains the late Michael Bennett‘s breakthrough backstage musical, winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In this "show before a show" the parts–the 17 dancers–outweigh the whole. That greater good is an imaginary musical where, as the hoofers swagger in Nancy Missimi’s gold lamé suits against massive mirrors, their Broadway fantasies come true. But by then we know “what they did for” dance.”

Most musicals are examples of art imitating life. Not so A Chorus Line. It fascinates because its constantly young cast insure that this show is a textbook case of life imitating art imitating life. (Actors in 2010 who could be the children of the 1975 cast are creating the 1975 creation that was itself inspired by the reality of 1975 dancers.) The recessed mirrors in Marriott’s Production perfectly symbolize the backstage, show-before-a-show nature of this unconventional depiction of the creation of a very conventional Broadway musical. (Remember: The finale, “One Singular Sensation,” is really intended as a backup to a star of the Streisand, Verdon or Ann Miller persuasion. “Chorus Line” may be all about dance but the “outside” musical that they’re creating is not.)  

It’s ironic that, after we get to know the "dance gypsies" chosen from the 24 who endure this grueling try-out, the survivors get swallowed up in "One," this massive finale where what counts is the lockstep anonymity of a kick line. The humanity that went into the song-confessionals, where the auditioners testified to the resilience, sexiness, escapism and transience of their trade, yields to the conformity of interchangeable parts. This "one singular sensation" is American individuality feeding American efficiency. Another all-too-American quality, at least at this stage of the recession, is the desperation that surges through “I Need This Job.”

 

Anika Ellis as Shiela - Chorus Line Marriott Bryan Knowlton as Paul - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation Nina Fluke as Val - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line Cast - Marriott

Before that chorus/assembly line closes ranks, we’ve felt the full diversity of the dancers, as preserved from interviews that Bennett did with the original dancers some 35 years ago. It’s ironic that the current dancers may have their own stories but they’re in effect prisoners of the musical’s now-distant past.

In Lococo’s devoted reprise of this not-so-retro musical, a second (or third?) generation solidly replay the life stories of the 1975 originals, slinking and strutting their way through Bennett’s pizzazz-packed choreography (here re-imagined by Rachel Rockwell) and tearing into Marvin Hamlisch‘s sturdy score. This arena staging may be in the round but the mirrors work even better than in a proscenium  production. They may not suggest many more dancers than the cast itself but the recessed effect makes it look like we’re seeing memories as much as moments here.

Adam Estes as Gregory - Chorus Line MarriottFleshing out showbiz stereotypes with true-life immediacy, Alexander Aguilar relishes the effortless bravura of "I Can Do That" and Pilar Millhollen belts out the tough-girl wisdom of "What I Did for Love." As Sheila, the aging but indomitable siren, Anika Ellis purges her past in "At the Ballet," while Nina Fluke reinvents Val’s surgical saga in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."

In the one unsung solo, Bryan Knowlton digs heartache from Paul’s tale of a gay dancer unexpectedly accepted by his family. Registering the full joy of moving fast, buffed-up Max Kumangai is a blurry revelation.

As he shapes the audition-rehearsal with God-like omniscience, Chicago favorite Tim Gregory brings easy authority to confessor-choreographer Zach, though his soap-opera showdown with Cassie, his old flame, seems perfunctory. Undeterred, Broadway notable Mara Davi (who appeared in the recent revival) throws herself into "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie’s tour-de-force dance sequence. It should feel as if everyone who ever danced the part were with her but on opening night she seemed to lose her terpsichorean motivations and it fell flat.

First and always, the revival confirms the continuing cause for its docu-tribute: Bennett’s high-strutting, soul-stirring dances are a perfect match for the aspirations this musical will always extol.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation2

 

   
   

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REVIEW: Closure (Fringeelement Entertainment)

Anger management amongst friends

 

 Closure - Fringeelement Entertainment Chicago 2

    
Fringeelement Entertainment presents
  
Closure
   
Written by Jake Perry
Directed by Errol McClendon
at
The Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through September 26  |  tickets: $15  |  more info 

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

Closure tells the story of three friends brought together after five years since the mysterious death of their mutual friend, Maria. Catherine, Dennis and Matt fall back into each other’s lives over a Labor Day weekend as they relive memories, both joyous and painful, and look for a way to deal with the death of Maria and find closure with this whole chapter of their lives.

Performed in the Viaduct Theater’s black box performance space, the set of Closure consists of a classic cabin scene designed by Joseph Budka. Walls are decked with wood paneling, a couch sits center stage and various chairs, photos and books take up the rest of the space. The set gives off a definitive country feel with its simple, yet cozy style. The lighting, designed by Claire Sangster, adds warmth to the space with delicate pink lights illuminating the space.

Closure - Fringeelement Entertainment Chicago The show opens on Catherine (Sarah Brooks) entering the cabin and looking around at old photos. She’s followed by Dennis (Austin Talley), who arrives a few minutes after she does. Talley is immediately a strong force on stage, booming with energy as he enters. Both his actions and his words are lively and animated, and it’s clear that’s he’s very comfortable with his character. Brooks, on the other hand, comes off stiff in the beginning, slightly unsure of her movements, but eventually opens up when she and Talley begin to converse. Talley and Brooks have a strange chemistry between them that never really clicks. It’s a challenge to imagine they were once good friends reuniting.

Dennis and Catherine reminisce and discuss Maria’s death. Catherine then finds out that she was lured to the cabin under false pretenses. Dennis – claiming that Matt, Catherine’s ex-boyfriend, invited them – convinced her to come. Catherine threatens to leave just as Matt (Jake Perry) arrives. Taken aback, Matt questions why his old friends are suddenly in his private cabin. Perry, who is also the show’s writer, has effortlessness with Matt. An autobiographical character it seems in many ways, Perry easily fits into Matt’s skin and fully brings him to life.

Talley and Perry have a better chemistry on stage. Playing off each other’s lines and body movements, these two men are fun to watch together; it’s not a leap to assume they are old buddies. Matt and Dennis fall back into a pattern shared in years before. Brooks also has better chemistry with Perry, and it’s more believable that they used to date.

Perry’s play is generally well-written. Throughout Closure, there are many insightful lines and monologues, causing not only the actors to consider the words being spoken but the audience as well. That being said, in Act I, there is a lot of unnecessary swearing written into the scenes to demonstrate anger. It’s clear by the acting that these characters have pent up anger at both Maria’s death and at each other. The overused expletives detract at times from the action taking place and become a nuisance. The swearing-makes-me-sound-pissed-off is tempered in Act II, and scenes run much smoother. Since this is a show based on anger and loss, a bit more comic relief would be welcome to help ease the audience after particularly dramatic scenes. Additionally, the character’s back-stories are minimally told, and more foundation is needed – Dennis’ story in particular. He is the loosest cannon, with a crazy, wild anger running through him, and I found myself wondering exactly where the roots of that anger come from.

Closure - Fringeelement Entertainment Chicago 3

Whereas the first act drags a bit and at times feels forced, the second acts picks up speed as the actor’s settle more comfortably into their characters. Talley offers up terrific body language as he unleashes his rage on Matt and Catherine. In turn, Perry displays true, raw emotions, allowing the audience to see how damaged Matt is as a human being. Of the three, Catherine could be pushed further. Brooks is talented and surely has the ability to take her character further and really delve into the emotions that drive Catherine to behave and speak in the manner she does.

Closure’s ending offers some unexpected, yet very welcome twists. Although their lives are not sewn up as the production comes to a close, what occurs is quite appropriate and beautifully done.

   
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Closure plays at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL, Thursdays to Sundays through September 26. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through the Viaduct’s Web site.


Production Personnel

Playwright: Jake Perry

Director: Errol McClendon
Light Design: Claire Sangster
Set Design: Joseph Budka

Featuring: Sarah Brook, Austin Talley and Jake Perry