By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
[All photos of this current TUTS production of A Chorus Line by MELISSA TAYOR]
***Click Any Photo to Enlarge***
By way of full disclosure, let me first declare that the legendary Tony Award-winning musical, A CHORUS LINE has been a longtime favorite of mine since the brilliant Michael Bennett directed and choreographed its record-breaking initial run on Broadway years ago. During that period I had several joyful opportunities to see the show on The Great White Way. It is a stunning theatre piece in every way, from the miraculous musical score (Music: Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics: Edward Kleban), its poignant book (James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante), and the stunning and ever-present dancing conceived by the aforementioned Mr. Bennett. The result was a monumental musical of such intimacy that by evening’s end we feel that we know, and very much care, about each of these young dancers struggling to “make it” on Broadway. All of these elements are respected, and once again brought to full fruition, in this extraordinary edition skillfully mounted by the Theatre Under the Stars organization here at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. TUTS Artistic Director, Dan Knechtges, is fully justified in bursting with enthusiasm as he introduces the production in a brief video screened just before the curtain rises.
His pride should certainly be shared here by the Director (Julie Kramer), Choreographer (Jessica Hartman), Dance Captain (Josh Walden), Musical Director (Michael Horsley), the all-equity cast of brilliant dancers, and the superb TUTS orchestra. Add to that a cast of ten gifted young dancers that make up the Teen Ensemble you will not be able to distinguish from the professionals in the cast.
For the uninitiated, except for the stunningly beautiful finale, all the action takes place in an empty Broadway theatre rehearsal space, decorated only by a stage-wide mirror. There, seventeen young dancers full of dreams are auditioning for the eight slots in a major Broadway musical. Clifton Samuels plays the show’s demanding director, Zach, whose intensely probing interviews of each candidate reveal the human stories that give this show its universal appeal, as they combine with the beautiful music and astonishing dancing. Those elements all explode right out of the gate in the thrilling opening number as the dancers sing the optimistic, “I Hope I Get It” in their quest for this job. Next we meet Mike (Alex Joseph Stewart), an Italian guy with a slightly goofy personality. He brings lively animation to telling the story of his learning to dance during the cheerful, “I Can Do That.” In an intricate number titled “And,” Logan Keslar brings comic flair and amusing body language to the role of flamboyant Bobby.
That song cleverly intertwines the stories of Judy (Madison Turner), feisty Val (Celia Mei Rubin), and athletic Richie (Sharrod Williams, who delivers the acrobatic, “Gimme the Ball,” segment). Troubled childhoods come to the fore during the hauntingly beautiful, “At the Ballet,”
as we hear the stories of Maggie (Veronica Fiaoni), Bebe (clear-voiced Gabi Stapula), and Sheila (Paige Faure). A somewhat ditzy, Kristine (Brooke Aver), explains she is no vocalist in the amusing, “Sing,” accompanied by her patient husband Al (Sean Ewing).
Mark (Brian Corkum) opens the dynamic full cast tribute to adolescence, “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” with the hilarious saga of his youthful confusion about gonorrhea.
In her role as Diana, Samantha Marisol Gershman brings lashing power and desperation to the song “Nothing,” describing the struggle of a young dancer unsure of how to tap into feelings as an actress.
A performer’s endless quest for attractive physical appearance is nicely captured as Val sings “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Miss Rubin lights up the stage from one end to the other.
Then comes perhaps the most stunning moment in the show as Sarah Bowden, in the role of sassy, sexy Cassie, (who just happens to be Zach’s former lover), performs the epic number, “The Music and the Mirror.” Her astonishing and memorable dancing was nothing short of brilliant.
In the role of the emotionally fragile Paul San Marco, Eddie Gutierrez delivers a poignant, center stage soliloquy with its powerful and heartbreaking tale of a young gay man’s struggle to find his identity. But our spirits soon rise again as Diana and the full company enchant us with perhaps the show’s most beautiful and enduring song, “What I did for Love.”
And just when we think there is nowhere to go from such bliss, the stage explodes with the sensational, “ONE,” the glitzy and golden finale that would perfectly showcase the incredible talents that TUTS had assembled for this unforgettable production.
A Chorus Line continues through September 22nd at Houston’s Hobby Center main stage with performances Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday at 8pm, and 2pm matinee performances on both Saturday and Sunday. For tickets visit the website at www.tuts.com, or call (713) 558-8887 locally, and (888) 558-3882 (outside of Houston).
A member of both The Lambs Club Inc. and The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the columns of DAVID DOW BENTLEY III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com . E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.