Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Chorus Line at Waterfront Theatre

Before Hamilton there was A Chorus Line. I was thinking about the relationship between Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2015 hit musical (which Richard and I will finally get a chance to see in LA this October) and the Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban/James Kirkwood/Nicholas Dante classic from 1976 as I watched a matinee performance of Fighting Chance Productions' staging of the latter yesterday at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.

Though the subject matter of both musicals couldn't be more different, the connections between them are striking. Both originated as off-Broadway productions at the Public Theatre that then went on to become massive Broadway hits, each earning a slew of Tony Awards as well as the Pulitzer Prize (two of only nine musicals in history to do so). They both also spawned successful touring productions, and as with A Chorus Line I'm sure Hamilton will soon be adapted to film. But what most came to mind yesterday as I looked at the cast Fighting Chance director and choreographer Rachael Carlson had assembled on stage was how A Chorus Line had begun to tackle the issue of diversity on Broadway some 40 years before Hamilton. Asian, Latinx, and Black actors are all featured prominently alongside white singers and dancers, and the ensemble of the musical, famously developed out of conversational workshops Bennett conducted with members of the cast, additionally features characters who self-identify as gay and Jewish.

Of course the deliberate irony of A Chorus Line's conceit is that this celebration of individual difference, so wonderfully brought out through the stories the sixteen "gypsies" narrate and sing over the course of being whittled down to a final selection of eight for director Zach's casting cut, will per force be subsumed into the absolute sameness and unison precision of a singular dancing machine--memorably encapsulated in the musical's high kicking, top hat popping, gold lamed concluding number, "One." As Zach (played here by Chris King) tells the dancers early on, and as he subsequently quarrels with Cassie, an ex-flame whose planned Hollywood career didn't pan out, in the line no one can stand out or pull focus from the star whom they are meant to support. That Cassie (a winning Lucia Forward) is in fact given a show-stopping solo number, "The Music and the Mirror," as illustration of her desire to return to being an anonymous member of the ensemble is just one of the many inside jokes this piece revels in.

In this semi-professional staging by Fighting Chance (King is the only Equity member in the ensemble), it must be said that the women stand out better than the men. Vanessa Quarinto as Diana Morales, who sings the memorable numbers "Nothing" (about a disastrous high school improv class) and the penultimate "What I Did for Love," is a definite triple threat, with a pure, soaring voice, clear technical dance training, and natural stage presence. Lindsay Marshall brings the house down as the sassy Val, who gets the cheeky (in more senses than one) song "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three." Alishia Suitor nicely reveals the vulnerability behind Sheila's hard-edged exterior in "At the Ballet" (where she is joined by Haley Allen's Bebe and Amanda Lourenco's Maggie). And Kailley Roesler has great comic timing as the tone-deaf Kristine. Kaden Chad, as Kristine's husband Al, does a good job playing off of Roseler in the tricky duet "Sing!," but elsewhere his voice was all over the place. Greg Liow as Mike is a phenomenal dancer, but his singing of "I Can Do That" at the top of the show was likewise only so-so. Jesse Alvarez, as Paul, is very moving in the monologue he delivers about his relationship with his parents; however, it was interesting to me in watching him and other of the men dance that the diversity in body size among the male cast members didn't really extend to the women.

Some things, I guess, never change.


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