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Theater Review (Waterbury, CT): A Chorus Line

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I have a confession to make. I am a dance geek and Broadway musical nerd. I danced through the various stages of my life with pretty tutus and costumes from my childhood and painfully blistered feet from beginning lessons in toe shoes. I was part of the dance team in high school; I tapped my way through an unhappy marriage, and celebrated my divorce with ballroom lessons. Fred Astaire figures prominently in my dreams of what heaven is like.

As for Broadway, I was the nerd with the collection of show tune records that I sang along with in the privacy of my room, a tradition that I carried on and passed on to my children. I can now confess that the few times I skipped school during my high school years, it was to take a train into New York to see a Broadway musical. Sometimes two in one day, because back then, in the ancient past, a Broadway show was not as expensive as they are now, and standing room tickets were readily available.

I love the Broadway series that has been presented this year at the Palace Theater in Waterbury. Given my love for dance, I was overjoyed when I found out that A Chorus Line was coming to the Palace. The gilded and glamorous Palace Theater is the perfect setting for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. Since its original production in 1975, A Chorus Line has become the longest-running American Broadway musical ever. Its winning score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban and fantastic original choreography by the incomparable Michael Bennett are classics. It won nine Tony Awards®, including “Best Musical,” and has been an inspiration to dancers and performers for generations.

The production at the Palace Theater lived up to the show’s illustrious past and rekindled my love for musical theater. I was smiling from the opening notes through the end of the show, and I did my best not to sing along to the songs that have become a part of the repertoire of musical theater lovers everywhere. It was a thrill to once again see the dancers posed on the line, nervous and unsure and aching for their big break. In fact, it was a thrill to again experience a show that celebrates dance, from small numbers highlighting the talents of one or a few dancers, to big production numbers like the opening audition piece, and of course, the finale filled with mirrors, gold costumes, top hats, and the famous kick line.

As stated in the show, each individual performer who made up that line was special. Standouts included Ashley Yeater as the somewhat older, jaded dancer Sheila, and Selina Verastigui as Diana, the would-be actress who felt “Nothing” in her improvisation course and opted for a career in dance instead. Kristin Martin as Val, whose solo number trumpeted the benefits of plastic surgery, and Hilary Michael Thompson as Kristine, the dancer who could never really “Sing!”, provided comic numbers.

This is not to say that the show was perfect. It can be difficult for individual actors to live up to the classic and, let’s face it, idealized numbers and performances of those who have played the roles in the past. Rebecca Riker, as Cassie, the dancer who had some success as a Broadway star, was convincing as she struggled with toning down her dance style in order to fit back into the line, but she fell short in her solo number, “The Music and the Mirror.” Her dance was technically good, but lacked passion.  Her lackluster kicks and incomplete layouts gave me the impression that she was playing it safe and I was never convinced that she was dancing for her life. It was a disappointment.

I was also somewhat disappointed by Nicky Venditti as Paul. His dramatic monologue was moving, but I was totally taken out of the moment when he was supposed to cry. Onstage crying is difficult for any actor, and he just didn’t convince me that the emotion was real. Fake crying is one of my pet peeves.

One other aspect of the show that was disappointing was the lighting. There were one or two times during the performance when it seemed that the house lights came up, again distracting me from what was happening on the stage. I’m not sure if they meant for that to happen of if it was just a technical glitch, but it was annoying.

But despite these minor disappointments, I was very happy with the show. It is still a powerful celebration of dance that not only represents the heart and sometimes heartache of dancers, but also reminds us of the joy inherent in pursuing one’s dreams. The show is about dancers wanting to become a part of a line, and isn’t that what we all want – to become a part of something that is bigger than ourselves? Perhaps that is why I will always love A Chorus Line.

The Palace Theater in Waterbury will continue to bring Broadway musicals to Connecticut audiences. They will present Disney’s Beauty and the Beast March 12-14 and The Color Purple May 7-9. For a complete list of upcoming shows, visit their website at Palace Theater or call 203-346-2000.

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About CindyC

Cindy is a Connecticut writer and member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. She has had many changes in her life, but one thing has always remained the same: her life-long love of theater.