A Chorus Line is a powerful show. Back in 1975 it won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. It ran on for more than 6,000 performances on Broadway for nearly 15 years. In London it was onstage for 30 years. The show is fundamentally the story of 16 dancers auditioning for a Broadway show, each individually seeking to justify her or his existence. Speaking to a director who is usually unseen, just a voice questioning them, they tell their individual stories. But they are competing to be part of a larger whole where no one will stand out. Each member of the cast must be a solid, sometimes showy dancer, but they also have to sing and act. This is probably the show that distilled the concept of the “triple threat,” a performer who can do all three elements equally.
I mention all this by way of saying that A Chorus Line is not a show you expect a community theater to take on, let alone do a good job with. Remember, these are volunteer performers, doing shows because they love theater. But they have day jobs and families and many other obligations that they have to handle while they prepare and perform a show. In a community the size of Greater Cincinnati it’s a challenge to find enough talented performers to do your typical musical. It’s a rare organization that can pull off a show so demanding. I guess that makes Cincinnati Music Theatre rare, because their present production of A Chorus Line offers excellent dancing, spectacular singing and acting performances that will make audiences laugh and break your heart.
Although most of us who sit and watch this show are not dancers, we’re all people who work and are proud of what we do. One way or another, we have probably experienced “the sweetness and the sorrow.” That, to me, is why A Chorus Line resonates with people beyond theater geeks: It’s about aspirations, dedication and pride. CMT’s production captures those elements beautifully, especially the dancing, choreographed and rehearsed to admirable precision by director Brian Anderson. While much of the show is the exploration of individual characters, it eventually coalesces into the iconic, glittery chorus number, “One,” they are competing to be a part of. They are part of a larger whole — but it’s comprised of individuals. The group periodically recedes into the darkness of the stage while one of them tells his or her story. But they eventually end up back on the line, posed in the same position with the same posture. It seems natural, but it requires endless rehearsal to make this seem effortless. That’s what dancers are all about.
The added beauty of A Chorus Line is the opportunity to meet the various characters. From nervous Mike (Drew Siemendinger) who tells how he took over his sister’s dance class opportunity (“I Can Do That”) to confident Val (Allison Evans) who overcame average looks (“Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”) with some plastic surgery, vivid characters come forth. Diana (Tina De Alderete) talks about a teacher who berated her (“Nothing”), three women (Marypat Carletti as cynical Sheila, with Katie Daniel as Bebe and Maggie Perrino as Maggie) tell their parallel stories of ballet classes, and we discover why Cassie (Jules Shumate), who has star power, is auditioning for the chorus. Most moving of all is Luka Ashley Carter’s performance as shy Paul, not in song but in a heartbreaking monologue about his adolescence and his family discovering his passion.
There are more fine individual performances — each actor gets a personal bow as the culminating finale builds (and that includes another eight dancers who are cut from the initial auditions) — but the show’s greatest emotional wallop comes when they are all in sync, in gold and glitter with hats cocked and performing as “One.”
CMT has pulled off a great piece of theater. If you love musicals, you should see A Chorus Line. It is “one singular sensation.”
A CHORUS LINE, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater, continues through Saturday, Nov. 16.