- Boston Theatre Critic
“A Chorus Line” opened at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston last weekend, providing a fantastic start to the theater’s 50th Anniversary Summer Season. With book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, and Lyrics by Edward Kleban, this musical tells the story of a group of seventeen inspiring performers auditioning for a place in a Broadway show’s chorus line. The roughly two-hour piece is conducted like a legitimate audition during which the audience gets to witness these individuals share their fears and motivations with the directing team and one another, all while dancing their hearts out for a chance at one of eight coveted roles.
Since it began gracing stages in the 1970’s this production has become something of a staple in musical theater. It is known for a few standout elements, including a simplistic set, a popular score, and, most notably, intense dancing. Fittingly, it is this element of Reagle’s production that stands out among the rest. While it is true that the set, designed by Richard E. Schreiber and Peter Doucette, is beautifully minimal—featuring only a set of tall mirrors along the back wall that appear and disappear as needed—and that many of the songs are recognizable, catchy, and well performed, it is truly the dancing that secures this production as a must-see in a great Boston summer lineup.
Part of the draw of the dancing in this show is the successful recreation of the original Broadway choreography by director Leslie Woodies. Where for some productions, a choice like this can feel like a cop out on the director’s part, in this highly complex and physically demanding piece, it is actually an ambitious undertaking, and one which Woodies has accomplished masterfully. Not only is the dancing sharp, unified, and beautiful, but she has also found a way of keeping it visually dynamic and interesting, even through long, extended sequences.
Much of this success is due to the clear attention and time put into the dance portion of this production, yet it is also important to note the quality of performers Woodies has assembled. It is obvious that, with a few exceptions, most of these performers are dancers above all else, and while there are times when perhaps that emphasis on dancing led to casting decisions that put actors in roles that fit their dance ability rather than their vocal comfort, each performer still manages to shine on stage, especially in the musical numbers.
Yet there are a few among this talented ensemble who stand out among the rest, often for adding a secondary layer of skill in vocals or acting to a show primarily focused on dance. Sydney Parra (Diana) is perhaps the best example of this, bringing to the stage not only incredible dancing, but both the voice and acting ability necessary to successfully portray the depth of this role. In her monologue describing her experience in a school acting class, for example, Parra is left alone on a big empty stage, telling a story that has the audience so engaged with her words they barely register that the rest of the cast has stepped away. Later, she leads the group in singing the chillingly beautiful “What I Did For Love,” and very clearly pours her heart and soul into every note.
Similarly, Makai Hernandez (Paul) captivates audiences with his powerful monologue describing who he is and where he came from to the director Zach, played by Scott Wahle. This is another instance in which the audience is left watching a single character share his story alone on stage, and yet it is one of the most captivating moments of the entire production. Hernandez’s ability to portray such a scope of emotions while still holding onto the boyish charm of the character has audiences won over from the moment he speaks, though it is when he begins discussing his past in drag specifically that the full scope of this talent becomes evident. From the light in his eyes to the femininity of his stance, the character’s entire demeanor changes when he reveals what it felt like to dress as a woman for the first time, and Hernandez manages to effortlessly sweep the audience along into his story with him.
This is the innate beauty of this particular show; there are so many standout moments like this for actors to really sink their teeth into, and this cast truly takes advantage of each and every one of them.
Another standout performance comes from Aimee Doherty, who shapes her character of Sheila into one of the most interesting in the bunch with powerful vocals, a sassy attitude, and well delivered comedic one-liners. Kirsten McKinney also commands the stage with her outstanding solo dance half-way through the piece, a sequence as emotionally breathtaking as it is technically impressive. Meanwhile, Charlotte Hovey (Kristine) and Thomas Doelger (Al)’s performance of “I Could Never Really Sing” is one of the most lighthearted and humorous in the show, providing the perfect balance of Doelger’s gorgeous voice and smooth persona, and Hovey’s adorable, quirky characterizations. Rounding out this talented cast are Bernie Baldassaro, Holly Bourdon, Victoria Byrd, Emma Clinch, Ian Costello, James Spencer Dean, Tavvon Gamble, Rosario Guillen, Marshall Joun, Ashton Lambert, Evan Pouch, Ansley Speares, Julia Springer, Cindy Tsai, Matthew Michael Uriniak, Paul Watt-Morse, and Suzi Weisberg.
With a cast so talented and a production so tight, the only critique to be had is for a few of the technical elements in the production that seemed to face some difficulties, at least on opening night. Frequent issues with the spotlight finding its mark and the sound system cutting in and out caused the audience to miss full sections of songs, lines, and blocking, and for a show with so much to offer, it was a shame to lose even a single moment.
Still, if the overall quality of this production is any indication of what’s to come in Reagle’s 50th Anniversary Summer Season—which includes “Anything Goes,” running July 5th-15th, and “The Music Man,” running August 2nd – 12th.—then be sure to get your tickets today.
“A Chorus Line” runs through June 17th at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston. For tickets visit www.reaglemusictheatre.org or contact the Box Office at (781) 891-5600. Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is located at 617 Lexington Street, Waltham MA.