Wednesday, November 13, 2019

REVIEW: A Chorus Line (Signature Theatre)

Image result for a chorus line signature theatreReview of the Sunday, November 10, 2019 matinee at Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia. With Joshua Buscher, Zeke Edmonds, Adena Ershow, Samantha Marisol Gershman, Jeff Gorti, Ben Gunderson, Elise Kowalik, Lina Lee, Brian Charles Moore, Corinne Munsch, Zachary Norton, Kayla Pecchioni, Matthew Risch, Maria Rizzo, Trevor Michael Schmidt, Emily Tyra, Jillian Wessel, Daxx Jayroe Wieser and Phil Young. Originally conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett. Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch. Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Scenic design by Jason Sherwood. Costume design by Sarah Cubbage. Lighting design by Adam Honore. Sound design by Ryan Hickey. Choreography by Denis Jones. Direction by Matthew Gardiner. 2 hours with no intermission. Runs through January 5, 2020.

Grade: B+

I have to admit I went into Signature Theatre's production of A Chorus Line with a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement for a new production of my absolutely all-time favorite show, and dread for a new production of my absolutely all-time favorite show. Much has been made of the fact that director Matthew Gardiner and choreographer Denis Jones would not be using Michael Bennett's staging or choreography (gulp!) - not even the iconic "line pose" (double gulp)!

The Line

Turns out all that dread was for naught. Seems that for all the "like you've never seen it before" hype was just that. Unless they meant visually, that is. Adam Honore's lighting design has a certain... neon/florescent vibe I haven't seen in this context before. And Jason Sherwood's boxy set including color changing vinyl (?) strips and a thin stripe of mirrors certainly wasn't your standard black box ACL. Ditto the majority of Sarah Cubbage's costumes (excluding a variation of the classic Cassie red dress) which felt like a very conscious effort to not mimic the originals. Was the design team going for timeless? I hope not, because while the script still contains all of the original 70's and before references (Robert Goulet, Steve McQueen, Ed Sullivan, Gwen Verdon), the set and lights are definitely 80's/90's and the costumes are mostly early 21st century.


What was not "radically different" was Matthew Gardiner's direction. No, it was definitely your standard production in that regard. I was relieved/thrilled that the company always ended up each number back in the "pose." To be fair, a few characters don't exactly match the Broadway line, but not by much. What is different, though, is the uneven pacing, particularly the post-injury, pre-"What I Did For Love" dialogue about life after dancing, which ground the show to halt. Interesting, then, that the pacing of a typical production trouble spot - the "And..." scene, had a vibrancy that I really enjoyed.

The Company - "I Hope I Get It"

Denis Jones, a dancer/choreographer whose work I've enjoyed over the years, was also less radical than advertised - think Michael Bennett lite, Michael Bennett adjacent. The most significant changes were in "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen," which included some fun teen awkwardness, and far less formation driven tableaux. And the iconic "One" was also pretty standard, substituting the "wedge" and "circle trot" choreography with lots of lines and kicks. Both numbers were really quite fine - not disappointing at all - but were likely changed due to the demands limited space more than any revolutionary re-vision of the dances.

Kayla Pecchioni as Maggie
The great news here - and without this, any production of A Chorus Line would be ruined - is that the cast is uniformly terrific, and full of triple threats. There were some cast members who really shone.  Paul's monologue was beautifully wrought by Jeff Gorti, while Trevor Michael Schmidt's energetic, quirky presence brought a "That I Can Do" that was delightful. My favorite number, "At the Ballet" exceeded my already high expectations, with a superbly sung Maggie (Kayla Pecchioni) getting much deserved applause when she perfectly hit that amazing high note.

Two actors stood out in all the right ways in characters that don't generally get much attention: Ben Gunderson's utterly charming Bobby, and understudy (!) Zeke Edmonds' sweetly protective Al. Both gave great acting performances, and are fantastic dancers. Finally, Matthew Risch was a commanding Zach, and his chemistry with both his "assistant" (Joshua Buscher as Larry) and his ex (Emily Tyra as Cassie) was not only palpable and on point, but also added a sometimes missing dramatic tension. Good stuff!

Emily Tyra (Cassie) and Matthew Risch (Zach)

Signature Theatre has been down this path before, hyping their Miss Saigon as a "you've never seen anything like it, immersive experience," and not delivering that, but rather a very good production of a classic work. A Chorus Line is a similar case - not as "new" as it thinks it is, but definitely a solid production. It's worth seeing.

📸: C. Mueller


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