CCM Shines With  ‘A Chorus Line’

Review by Teddy Gumbleton of  A Chorus LineCCM Musical Theatre

For their first mainstage show, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music’s Department of Musical Theatre is presenting A Chorus Line, the iconic musical featuring music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and original direction and choreography by Michael Bennett. A Chorus Line tells the story of a group of dancers auditioning for a part in a musical. During the audition, the director, Zach, asks them to open up and slowly they reveal themselves as more than just nameless chorus members. When it opened in 1975, A Chorus Line was a massive hit, scoring 9 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it went one to be one of the longest running shows in Broadway history.

In many ways, A Chorus Line is an ideal undertaking for a college conservatory. It is a classic musical, with a varied cast of characters, and important choreography. It is also produced fairly regularly, which would allow the skills they learn to directly translate to future productions. But, on the other hand, A Chorus Line can be a tricky artistic endeavor because the copyright of the piece requires that all productions recreate Michael Bennett’s original choreography and staging, limiting a production’s ability to provide a unique interpretation.

In spite of these limitations, a production of A Chorus Line can distinguish itself through impeccable execution of Bennett’s choreography and by fleshing out the details that bring the characters to life. The cast of 26 students does both of these very well, nailing the choreography with much aplomb and soaring in their rich, detailed character work. Some highlights include, but are not limited to, the tender affection Al (Paul Schwensen) shows towards his wife and Mark’s (Daniel Marhelko) green earnestness.

However, there are two moments worth singling out about all other. The first is when the tremendous trio of Sheila (Kyra Christopher), Bebe (Madelaine Vandenberg), and Maggie (Areo Keller) perform “At the Ballet”. This is when each of these dancers express why they fell in love with dance. It is the first point in the show when the characters begin to reveal themselves. Christopher, Vandenberg, and Keller brought exquisite depth to the song and wonderfully set the mood for the emotional journey ahead. The other high point belongs to Christopher Kelley’s Paul. Paul initially is a quiet and reserved character. Only after being pressed by the director does he share his complicated past in a heartbreaking monologue. Kelley’s delivery might be the most affecting I have seen; he is remarkably restrained, never giving into hysterics, which makes it all the more wrenching.

Director and Choreographer Diane Lala does a terrific job of faithfully recreating Bennett’s original production. She nails the nuance of his work and reminds the audience of the genius of the original. Also worth mentioning are Lindi-Joy Wilmot’s costumes. She evokes rich character detail and subtly infuses 1970’s fashion into each piece. Matthew D. Hamel’s spare sets and Jeremy Dominik’s rich lighting work wonderfully in tandem to shape the mood of the show.

Overall CCM’s lovely production will remind you why A Chorus Line is still regarded as great musical. A Chorus Line runs through October 30 in CCM’s Patricia Corbett Theater.