Michael L. Quintos
- OnStage Los Angeles Critic
Hollywood, CA—In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the 2008 documentary film "Every Little Step"—the behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new 2006 Broadway revival of the groundbreaking stage musical "A CHORUS LINE"—actor Jason Tam is seen giving a searing audition for the role of timid Paul in front of a panel of tear-drenched casting directors. That superb audition that has been captured in the film (which left audiences weeping as well) eventually landed Tam the gig, which he has now wonderfully revived ten years later, this time on the massive stage of the 17,000-seat Hollywood Bowl for this world famous venue's annual big-ticket summer musical playing through Sunday, July 31.
Once again, Tam's beautifully delivered, tearjerking monologue—which unfolds as a young man's heartbreaking confessional recounting the painful moment when his parents decided to let him go, disappointed of his particular life choice—becomes one of the many excellent highlights of a truly sensational fully-staged production, here directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee, herself a distinguished alumnus of the original 1975 Broadway cast.
Engaging, well-paced, aurally pleasing, and exceedingly entertaining from start to finish, the Hollywood Bowl's "A CHORUS LINE" is an exceptional presentation of this iconic show which celebrates those hard-working, ultra-talented, under-paid men and women who willingly choose a volatile career in which they sing and dance their hearts out in the background of a musical. It is set in the far out mid-70's, hence, the show is a retro-tastic trip down memory lane as it showcases a day of auditions for eight chorus member positions in a brand new musical opening on Broadway.
Much of this production's success is its decision to be as close to the full musical production as possible rather than be a mere symphony orchestra staged concert, which defies many of the rules one associates with the Bowl's summer musical. Normally, their annual production is more of an elaborate staged concert version that is altered and truncated as needed to fit not only the parameters of this venue's larger stage but to pepper it with a roster of famous, big-name actors, who are here trying their hand at doing a live musical theater concert. Most of the time, the stunt casting of A-list stars in key roles produces some pleasant discoveries. Other times, not so much.
Luckily, the opening night audience in attendance Friday night were treated to many fine performances overall that were rightly welcomed with adulation.
For this Bowl version of "A CHORUS LINE", producers enlisted only a handful of recognizable stars—led by TV host/actor Mario Lopez—filling the rest of the large 17-member cast with a diverse group of proven triple-threat stage professionals. The resulting show is, hands down, one of the most well-performed musical productions that I have seen at the Bowl. From the execution of Lee's Michael Bennett-inspired choreography to the incredible singing performances of Kleban and Hamlisch's memorable classic songs, this is a production of "A CHORUS LINE" that can stand proudly side-by-side with any acclaimed full production of the musical, regional or otherwise.
Besides Lopez (who is no stranger himself to "A CHORUS LINE", since he made his Broadway debut as Zach in the closing company of the Broadway revival), the other big name stars in the cast also include Broadway darling Krysta Rodriguez (Deaf West's SPRING AWAKENING, TV's Smash) who gives, in my opinion, the production's best performance as Puerto Rican spitfire Diana (her exquisite solo in "What I Did For Love" certainly got me teary-eyed); teen heartthrob and R5 frontman Ross Lynch (Disney Channel's Austin & Ally) as the adorable Mark; dashing Tony Award nominee Robert Fairchild (AN AMERICAN IN PARIS) as the limber Mike; the hilarious Sabrina Bryan (Dancing with the Stars, The Cheetah Girls) as well-endowed Val, and So You Think You Can Dance choreographer Spencer Liff (who also choreographed Deaf West's SPRING AWAKENING last year) as Larry.
While much of the show is spent trying to give ample time to certain stories more than others, many of the supporting players managed to effectively make their presence known, even in tiny bits. I was thoroughly impressed by the gorgeously stratospheric voice of Mara Davi (Maggie) as I was with Cornelius Jones Jr.'s rousing riffs as Richie, Justin Michael Wilcox's spunky Al DeLuca, and the lovely "At the Ballet" trio featuring Davi, the snarky aging diva Sheila played by Leigh Zimmerman, and Bebe played by Kelsey Walston.
Also worth noting: pint-sized scene stealer J. Elaine Marcos as age-defying Connie Wong; adorkable Tiana Okoye as erratic Judy Turner; sassy Denis Lambert who amusingly milked every line as Gregory Garner; Courtney Lopez (yes, Mario's bae) as tonally-challenged Kristine; and, lastly, dance phenom Sarah Bowden as Cassie, an ex-lover of Zach's who wants to rejoin the ranks of the chorus despite Zach's insistence that she's too special to just be lost among the crowd. Her extra disco-fied "Music and the Mirror" got the crowd cheering.
And, of course, no matter what... an audience can't resist a coordinated kick-line, and this production doesn't disappoint with theirs. When the entire ensemble emerges from the final brutal cut covered in head to toe gold hues to move as "One Singluar Sensation" for its finalé, it's heavenly nostalgia wrapped in dazzling glitter. Their syncopation is so remarkable, that just yelling "Bravo" doesn't seem to suffice.
Overall, this one's a real winner.
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Photos from the Opening Night Performance of "A CHORUS LINE" at the Hollywood Bowl by © Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging. Review originally published on BroadwayWorld.
"A CHORUS LINE" features music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, musical direction by Patrick Vaccariello, and direction/choreography by Baayork Lee. For information on other performances at the Hollywood Bowl, visit hollywoodbowl.com.