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A CurtainUp Review
A Chorus Line
By Dave Lohrey
Big city critics who have seen the original probably shouldn't review a regional theatre revival. We come knowing the show, and have trouble sharing the opening night excitement felt by the audience. This is especially true of a recent phenomenon such as A Chorus Line, which I have now seen four times. On the other hand, if the show has substance, a second or fourth viewing, as the case may be, offers an opportunity to see things hidden beneath the surface of a first viewing.
A Chorus Line is a razzle-dazzle musical with such spectacular numbers as "One", but it is also a sad, relentlessly revealing commentary on the poverty of American family life. A Chorus Line? Sad? I think so, or at least that's what I saw in it this time in its current incarnation at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. Not that I didn't leave the theatre with a big smile on my face, as did the rest of the audience. That is the secret of this musical's enduring appeal. It takes you for a ride, at once skimming the surface, and then dives into emotionally deep waters. But it always brings you back.
Consider the personal stories of the individual chorus members. They are not pleasant. Even the opening number, "I Hope I Get It", is a cry of desperation. We are at a cattle call, and some of the dancers are going to be cut. We, as the audience, witness their rejection, and it's not pretty. The second number I Can Do That strikes a lighter note and Shane Rhoades performed it well. But look how many of the songs possess heartbreak as their subtext: "At the Ballet", "Nothing," "Dance: Ten; Looks, Three,""What I Did For Love". Broken homes, abuse, loveless marriages, neglect, cruelty: this is the background of these chorus members who each seeks escape in performance. Theatre provides a home to those who never really had their own. The theatre is depicted as an orphanage.
The Papermill production is topnotch, certainly on the level of the best professional productions anywhere in the country. I believe Miss Caitlin Carter's Cassie is the best I've ever seen. In the first place, Cassie must always stand out and be striking, even before her true identity is revealed. In the second place, her dancing must astonish. She cannot appear to be trying hard. She is, after all, a star dancer, and every moment she is on stage should be memorable. Miss Carter has the looks and the talent to put this over. She has legs that won't quit. She has a shapely body, and knows how to carry herself. In short, she has class. There are many other outstanding performances: Eric Dysart is wonderful as Richie; Nadine Isenegger offers a perky Val; Luis Villabon breaks your heart as Paul. The only disappointment was Mark Bove's Zach, whose voice as the director lacks authority, and occasionally resembles a whine.
Whether you've never seen a Chorus Line, or seen it as often as this reviewer, this first-class production is well worth a visit to the Paper Mill Playhouse.