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Matthew Dohm

A Chorus Line

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.


The lighting had such an impact on the overall production we took the decision here to lower the director’s ‘Overall Vision’ score.

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/

Review: Dogfight

Dogfight

It has been an incredible few years for songwriting and composing duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. They are the team behind the latest Broadway smash, Dear Evan Hansen, and responsible for the lyrics of the Oscar award winning song, City of Stars, from the wonderful La La Land. That success is enough for us to take a first look at their 2012 musical, Dogfight, an adaptation of the 1991 film of the same name that starred the late River Phoenix.

The intimate Kentlands Mansion & Arts Barn is the venue for this Rockville Music Theatre’s production and the small stage features a low platform designed to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The show opens to the haunting melody of Take Me Back as we meet Eddie Birdlace (Eric Jones) and Rose Fenny (Megan Evans) after the events that are about to unfold. We are transported back in time and Jones is joined by the other two Bees, Boland (Garrett Zink) and Bernstein (Cam Sammartano) and the rest of the Marines for Some Kinda Time. Choreographer, Hayley North combines militaristic movement with a drinking buddy’s vibe that works extremely well (apart from one slightly awkward lift towards the end) to capture the naivety of these young men before they head off to war.

With the rules of the Dogfight explained (basically who can bring the ugliest date to the party) we are introduced to the full ensemble in Hey, Good Lookin’ and Music Director, Matthew Dohm, has the cast in fine voice. We transition to the diner where Eddie and Rose meet and Evans is at her best as the awkwardly introverted Rose in Nothing Short of Wonderful. The flow of Act One is a major achievement by Director, Dana Robinson. Scene changes are seamless and are aided by the excellent lighting design of Rick Swink. The movement on stage is slick and that is exemplified by the couples dancing in That Face where the small space is used to maximum effect.

The performances throughout the cast are strong, but a lack of subtlety is a consistent theme in the acting choices. Hillary Templeton gets all the laughs as Marcy but crosses the fine line into cliché and loses some of the tragic nature of the character required for the emotional duet with Evans in It’s A Dogfight. There is no doubting Evans’ sincerity with her performance of Pretty Funny and it is a heartfelt close to the first act but it lacks a rawness that could have meant not a dry eye in the house.

Act Two starts at the arcade with A Home Town Hero’s Ticker Tape Parade and unfortunately it’s a sloppy start vocally and some difficulty bringing on a doorway only adds to that sense. The threat of rape as Sammartano throws the prostitute to the ground doesn’t feel dark enough and that lack of gravity sits uncomfortably. As Eddie distances himself from the rest of the Marines to find Rose it’s a chance for Jones to explore the depth of his character underneath the bravado, especially when discussing his father, but it’s never quite the nuanced performance it could be.

With the platform representing the actual Golden Gate Bridge, at times in the second act, it’s difficult on such a small stage to not fall into the trap of some of the action seemingly taking place in the water.  That’s the case as Eddie and Rose spend their night together and there is an uncomfortable moment as some of the ensemble enters the stage for Give Way and look like slightly creepy voyeurs as they hold hands awkwardly stage left. The stage is suddenly beautifully lit as Eddie dresses on the edge of Rose’s bed in silhouette as Boland and Bernstein lead the reprise of Some Kinda Time from the platform. The lighting change in the middle of that moment to bring the lower stage into the light is almost criminal.

As the Marines head off on duty a quick lighting change thrusts us into the middle of a Vietnam War Zone. It’s a jolt and a relatively effective one and the sound effects are well done but it feels like there is more that could have been done to attack the senses of the audience. The battle that follows feels a little over choreographed and the deaths lack a certain poignancy that we want to feel despite the flaws of these young men. Another quick lighting change and we’re back in San Francisco post war. Surrounded by protesters, Jones gives the vocal performance of the night in Come Back. It’s a powerful and emotional moment that sadly we are snapped out of with a simple “Hey Rose” delivered as if it was no surprise at all to bump into her in that vast city.

Despite never quite living up to the seriously impressive staging of the first act, and not getting truly next level performances out of her talented cast, this show is a success for Dana Robinson and RMT that is worth making the effort to see.

#tothepoint Rating: 64/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $22

Value Review: +$6

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $28. Dogfight continues at the Kentlands Mansion & Arts Barn, March 24th, 25th & 26th.

 

 

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