Chills of Recognition

6a00d8341c630a53ef01156f223ac4970c-500wiThe best thing about A Chorus Line—and there’s a lot of good things—is that there’s a moment every ten minutes or so when chills run up your spine. You know these chills, too. They are the chills of recognition, chills of connection. They are the cells inside your body racing alongside your bones, like an excited dog, at the mere thought of meeting something or someone like them.

A Chorus Line—which opened at the Pantages Theatre this past Tuesday, and runs for two weeks only until June 13th—comes loaded with history. Michael Bennett’s visionary piece, since 1975, has been a staple of Broadway, off-Broadway, and high-school productions alike. It has won numerous prizes, including the Tony and Pulitzer Prize for Best Musical. It spawned an awful film adaptation, and a wonderful documentary. In 2006, the show was revived on Broadway by the original co-choreographer, Bob Avian. It broke all sorts of box office records. And the cousin of Avian’s revival still tours today, occasionally to Los Angeles for brief, two-week runs.

But for all the bombast, A Chorus Line is best when it sticks to its roots—the loose grouping of Broadway dancers that Michael Bennett brought together in 1974 at the Nickolaus Exercise Center to tell their stories on tape. The show often veers from this core focus, unable to restrain from bits of bravado, much like the character Cassie (Rebecca Riker) does when told by her ex-boyfriend/director Zach (Derek Hanson) to stick to the choreography. These hardly un-enjoyable departures, however, only allow for the true moments—when Paul (Nicky Venditti) has his monologue, when Sheila (Ashley Yeater) starts to sing “At the Ballet,” and of course when Diana (Selina Verastegui) leads the cast in “What I Did For Love”—to shine all the brighter.

As far as this particular production goes, it’s pretty much what you would expect, which, when talking about A Chorus Line, is a good thing. Because you expect to be thrilled, and to be sad, and be privy to that oh-so rare sight in musical theatre: honesty on stage. Without a doubt, actor Andy Mills, who plays the show-stealing character of Mike, steals the show. Mills is so good-looking he stands out from the mezzanine, and his dancing is so flawless you find yourself using him as the bar for other dancers. I also enjoyed Derek Hanson, who’s interpretation of Zach—the fictional director that remains in the shadows for most of the show—was complex enough to support the facets of the for-sure Michael Bennett stand-in character. Other notables include Rebecca Riker, Ashley Yeater, Donald C. Shorter, and Nathan Lucrezio.

A Chorus Line is a musical that kind of begs to be updated or adapted. I’d love to hear one of the dancers talk about bulimia, for instance. Or have a character make a comment on gay marriage, or the economy. But seeing the show live, and with such an excellent cast makes me realize this is not the way to go. Every line and every step of Bennett’s masterwork holds up, and though it wouldn’t exactly be sacrilege to change a few things to make it more topical, there’s really no need to change what still gives me those chills up my spine. 

A Chorus Line runs until June 13th at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. For more information, please call 323-468-1770, or visit www.broadwayla.org.

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