REVIEW: "A Chorus Line" — One More Productions at GEM Theatre
Updated: Sep 15, 2021
"Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love"
One More Productions presents Michael Bennett's dazzling masterpiece, “A Chorus Line, The Broadway Musical,” playing now at the GEM Theatre through October 3rd.
With a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and a score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, this timeless classic is Directed/Musically Directed by Damien Lorton and Produced by Nicole Cassesso. It focuses primarily on the back stories and struggles of seventeen hopeful dancers auditioning for eight chorus parts, shifting from one figure to another in quick succession. The use of a row of mirrors in the background (the main set piece) adds to the drama and effectiveness of the show.
Watching the show, in fact, may be compared to a cold glass of draft beer: You never repeat the tang or sting of that first swig. But since that initial swallow is so ambrosial, let us savor it even more so now. Because anyone who wants to know why “A Chorus Line” is always such a big deal need only experience the first “I Hope I Get It” scene, an introduction which never ceases to thrill.
The members of the uniformly terrific cast makes each character onstage a distinct individual, which somehow also makes the collective energy of the full-company production numbers all the more effective.
Even if you have seen this musical numerous times in the past, Director Lorton’s staging of the show is significant, mining the material with equal moments of goosebumps and genuine depth of feeling, delivering a knockout show that glitters spectacularly and also strikes a chord on your heart.
In one of the first solo breakout numbers in the show, Hunter Nelson as Mike unconditionally owns his role in "I Can Do That," and Jacob Beaver achieves a winning, nervous narcissism as Bobby in “And…” accompanied by Val, TJ Punchard’s ("Guys and Dolls") Richie, and Lexi Cross’ ("Evita") Judy. “Gimme The Ball,” another high energy montage by Greg (Erik Diaz; “Beauty and the Beast”), Richie and company really gets the blood pumping, while “Mother” becomes a longing for a mother’s touch and understanding by Don (Edvan Galvain; “Peter Pan”), Judy and Maggie.
Giovanna Martinez (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”), a ballet student at Colburn School Dance Academy, is also very moving when she sings Diana Morales’ power anthem, "What I Did for Love," and especially shines in her personal journey song, "Nothing."
One of the favorite monolgues in the show is by Mark (Matthew Rangel, in his OMP debut) who hilariously details his first sexual experience, leading to absolution by a priest.
Another central character is the spicy and properly sardonic Sheila, who has been around the block a few times. Elizabeth Cuzzupoli (“Les Miserables”) captures and heightens Sheila's armor of insolence, while also conveying an essential woundedness beneath, which is even more painfully harrowing in perhaps the most moving song in the show, "At the Ballet."
And when Zach (Ricky Augustin; “Bright Star”), the show’s director and ersatz Freudian analyst, who manages to be authoritarian, as well as sympathetic when he needs to be, and Lola (Angela Mattern; NBC’s “This Is Us”), his assistant, leads their auditioners through increasingly elaborate routines, the fascination is in the tension of the dancers trying (and often failing) to become the dance.
There’s a merciless intensity in the show, both exciting and scary. These young artists are as tightly wound and vibrant as newly plucked violin strings. And though there is a stage full of them, in only a few minutes you’ve become quite aware of every one as an individual, with the potential to soar or snap.
The paradox of any “A Chorus Line” production is that, from that opening scene onward, the characters never register fully as individuals when they’re dancing as a shiny anonymous dance machine with flexible limbs and rhythm. It’s only when they step forward to tell their stories that they turn into types, especially when the show’s director unearths the kind of blame-the-parents group-therapy confessions usually reserved for the psychiatrist couch. And the dynamic of Zach’s manipulating their characters into self-revelation mirrors the rawness of their sentimental clichés even more.
Just about everyone in this cast of “A Chorus Line” has brought something special distinctively to the show. Iva Erwin (“Avenue Q”) is an amusing and endearing Connie, and Race Chambers (a Knotts performer) and Kady Lawson (“Fiddler on the Roof”) score in the number "Sing" as newlyweds Kristine and Al. Sharing the stage with Ms. Cuzzupoli’s Sheila in "At the Ballet" are the equally exquisite Julia Lacopetti ("No No Nanette") as Bebe and Mikaelah O’Connor ("Mamma Mia!") as Maggie, who, collectively, make the number tremble the rooftops.
But it was Kerri Pelekoudas’ (“West Side Story”) Val, right before intermission, who got all the laughs with her humor and over-the-top melodramatic delivery, singing "Dance Ten, Looks Three," an ode to the career-enhancing benefits of plastic surgery. Strutting her chassis with a breasts-forward walk, and speaking like someone who decided as a child that her role models would be Bond girls, Ms. Pelekoudas creates a deliciously credible study in self-invention.
When act two begins, the "Music and the Mirror" danced by Hannah Clair (“The Wild Party”) as Cassie, brings back the momentum and brilliance of the musical as if no break existed. She performs one of the longest dance sequences ever created for a musical and gives the character a significant new look with her striking solo.
And, especially outstanding is Andrew Cano (Walt Disney Company), ingratiatingly “younger-brotherish” and strangely unsullied as Paul, who tells the agonizing story of his humiliating stint in a drag show in an emotional soliloquy that brought a shattered audience to tears.
The group playing the cut figurants include Josh Alvarez, Brian Bolanos, Dani Burley, Kara Dillard, Amanda Fish (Tricia), Soleil Garcia, Megan Lafferty, Christina McAllister, Kristi Platillero (Vicki), Isabella Price, Gabriela Rubalcava, Ali Rubalcava, and Kole Yoshi — all amazingly wonderful dancers. Much praise to all!
Gifted choreographers Shauna Bradford (Multiple Broadway World Awards Nominations), Alan Collins ("West Side Story"), Heather Holt Smith ("The Young Americans") and Kady Lawson (also playing Kristine) has seamlessly recreated Michael Bennett’s self-anatomizing original choreography. It’s stream-of-consciousness dancing; we can hear the performers’ self-correcting, self-assuring thoughts as they go through their paces. These numbers still brim with vicarious anxiety and exhilaration, neatly captured by the melody-warping dissonance of Mr. Hamlisch’s score.
Costume Designer for the show is Luis Cornejo ("Cabaret"); Set Designer is Wally Huntoon; Sound Designer/Technical Director is Dan Baird; and Musical Coordinator is Jeff Segal. Make Up Designer is Brian Bolanos, and Wigs are by Alan Collins (also choreographer). Rehearsal pianists are Richard Abraham and Adrian Rangel Sanchez. Jon Hyrkas has also adapted Tharon Musser’s original Lighting Design effectively along with Mendenhall Productions.
One More Productions at the GEM Theatre is located at 12852 Main St, Garden Grove, CA 92840. “A Chorus Line” runs September 9-October 3, with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, with two Saturday matinees on September 18 and 25 at 2pm.
Tickets are $50 for General Admission, $40 for Seniors (60+) and Children (12 and under) on matinee performances, and $35 for Seniors and Children on evening performances. Tickets are available by calling (714) 741-9550, by going to www.onemoreproductions.com, or by visiting the box office in person from 2-6pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report