By The Fredericktowne Players
Simple ideas are so often the best and the longevity of A Chorus Line’s original Broadway run and it’s continued relevance, including Broadway and West End revivals, are testament to that. If anything the formula of following the dreams of the many wanting to be the chosen few while we learn more about their personal backstory has been revitalized by the era of reality TV talent competitions using the same blueprint.
The set design for A Chorus Line is effectively preordained. A Marley covering the FCC stage and a wall of ballet mirrors (that rotate to form a solid black backdrop as required) are flanked at the rear of the stage on either side by a vertical bank of lights. Unfortunately this clean and crisp setting has to be cluttered on each downstage extremity to accommodate the band. The Fredericktowne Players commitment to quality live music, here under the excellent music direction of Matthew Dohm, is to be applauded but it causes issues with the balance between the band and actors that likely won’t be overcome unless the group finds a different home.
Any thoughts about the freezing temperatures outside are quickly forgotten as the production gets off to a red hot start with the anthem of every starving artist, I Hope I Get It. The director, Zach (Stephen Ward) and assistant, Laurie (Tracey Durr) – a gender switch from the original Larry – put the hopeful dancers to the test and it’s an incredible start to the show. Choreographer Laurie Newton has these dancers ready and the execution is terrific as the cast really bring it with everything elevated by the wonderful brass pieces in the band making this feel like the start of something big.
That makes the next 15 minutes of the show, all the more frustrating as director Christopher Berry can’t keep up the momentum. With the dancers on the line and Zach now a disembodied voice from the back of the house, the pace becomes glacial. This is largely due to the line delivery from Ward rhythmically fitting in between the staccato music. If the intent is to come across as cold or uncaring to help with the character arc – it doesn’t work – it just sounds disconnected from the material and drags the energy down.
The lighting issues of the show really begin to become apparent during And. As Bobby (Jack Dempsey) is telling us his colorful history we are suddenly transported into the head of other dancers on the line as they panic about what they could or should share with the director. These moments are crying out for intimate lighting with only the person whose thoughts we are hearing lit – instead we find ourselves scanning the line trying to discover which persons’ lips are moving. Becca Sears has no problem standing out in these early moments as the endearingly quirky Judy and you can’t help wanting her to succeed.
These lighting issues continue into At the Ballet as Newton’s decision to bring back some of the cut dancers doesn’t really work without the lighting to sell the dream like sequence. Vocally the song gets off to a little bit of a pitchy start but by the mid point Sheila (Nora Florez) Bebe (Emma Cooley) and Maggie (Julia Creutzer) combine beautifully with Dohm on the keyboard. Sing! allows Olivia Smith to show off her terrific character development as Kristine, the bundle of nervous energy who can’t sing. The duet with her husband, Al (Danny Santiago) is hugely fun and while the character Kristine might not be able to sing, Santiago’s beautifully rich tone is the standout male vocal in the cast and leaves us wishing by the end of the night he had a solo.
The 4 part montage that leads us into intermission is a little bit of a mixed bag. Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love features Mark (Ethan Ropp) hitting all the right comedic beats (as any story about Gonorrhea should) but then the production hits a major sound snag on Nothing as all of Diana’s (Ciara Hargrove) solo is lost due to mic failure and she cannot project enough to overcome the band. Gimme the Ball is a joyous outpouring to take us to intermission with the dancers in excellent synchronicity with Newton using the full depth of the space and Zachary Bryant spectacularly nailing back flips at the front of the stage.
The Music and the Mirror is the stand out moment of the night while also highlighting the shortcomings of the production. There is no real need to bring Zach down to the front of the house to talk to Cassie (Melanie Drummer) Despite a strong vocal performance, Drummer seems to be fighting her instinct to sing to the back of the house rather than to the director below her in the front row. Her dance though is spectacular as she feels every note from the band and completely owns the stage. Drummer’s simple red costume looks striking reflected in the mirrors and this could have been a truly transcendent moment if it had been lit correctly. Unfortunately, as is the case for much of the night, a true lighting design is passed over for a combination of two follow spots and the result with mirrors is unsurprisingly blinding light reflected into the audience.
Paul (Brian Dauglash) has one of the longest monologues in any musical as he opens up to the director about his past. Dauglash plays it truthfully and paces the emotional delivery patiently to draw us in to his story. It’s the highlight of an excellent overall performance. We are invested as an audience in this young man so his injury in The Tap Combination and the aftermath should be a poignant moment but the staging is such it really isn’t clear what has happened. A knee injury is the diagnosis but there is no drama created so the sudden seriousness of everyone just feels contrived and the whole section is buttoned by Paul being carried off with hands under the very body part that is supposedly hurt.
What I did for Love isn’t helped by those moments that preceded it but it is redemption for Hargrove as with her mic now working we hear what we were missing in the first act as she sings it very sweetly backed up by the company in fine voice. As the final cuts are made the quick costume change isn’t quite as quick as we would like but it’s worth the wait as it appears no expense was spared in nailing the signature gold costumes for the finale. The cast look spectacular as they take their final bows and as the line becomes a rotating circle it is really a triumphant moment.
There is a lot of talent in this production and the singing and dancing is at a consistently high level. Christopher Berry has overseen some fine character development in his actors but the show doesn’t move as swiftly as it should. The show represents good value for money but we could be talking about something in terms of ‘can’t miss’ without the lighting issues lowering the value of the show significantly.
You can see how our scoring works here: https://theatretothepoint.com/scoring/
The Fredericktowne Players production of A Chorus Line continues until February 10th. http://ftptheater.com/Website/