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A Chorus Line, Croswell Opera House (Review)…good but uneven July 12, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Theatre.
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I have to preface this review by stating that A Chorus Line is probably my favorite musical of all time. Its written perfectly: it hits the jugular for musical theater performers like no other show ever had before it’s initial run, and none has since. The choreography is pointed, clean, familiar and fast paced. And the entire evening holds together in a way that was groundbreaking at the time. It is also dated, but forgivable when done as a period piece (oh, to say that about this show!)

Croswell Opera House is currently presenting a decent production of the show, and for non-Chorus Line fans, probably a more assessable production than many. But it is not without its problems.

The Ensemble is generally good — there are better performers and there are weaker performers, but they are both directed and choreographed appropriately to form a blended ensemble unit. Since this show is a true ensemble piece, I will not pull out any individual performances for comment, except for the exceptional Lindsey Denham in the difficult role of Cassie. Her performance is equal to any professional Broadway performer in the role. Other featured roles vary from fantastic to average.

Everything looks great set and costume wise, and the lighting is effective and well-timed to the performance.

The sound is poor. Microphones pop, crackle, and even sputter out. In this instance, it is NOT the fault of the soundboard, who do a very good job of making sure no sound cues are missed. Rather, it is the elements in the body mics themselves — problematic in every Croswell show the past year or two, and very problematic here when you add near-constant body-movement to the mix. I know elements are expensive, but good ones are invaluable to your sound design. Someone please donate a few thousand dollars to Croswell so they can fix this.

Jonathan Sills has done his usual methodical and professional job with the vocalists and with his terrific orchestra.

Director Matthew Bowland does a serviceable job of moving everyone about the stage and creating stage pictures that are reminiscent of the original production while having his own style. Where things go wrong is the pacing of non-musical portions of the show. The pacing is too slow. Line pick-up is terrific in some segments, and not so in others. Characters are given too much time to think and reflect on stage, not a part of this show. The show should clock in at 1:50 without an intermission. Here it clocks in at 2:20 WITH an intermission (more on that appalling intermission later).

The choreography is well done. Debra Calabrese has done a good job of recreating original steps for the show, while keeping the flavor of the more difficult original choreography. Nobody looks terribly out of step, and the better dancers blend well with the weaker dancers. (There are a few weaker dancers, but only a trained choreographer would really spot that). I applaud her work.

Now onto that appalling intermission.  A Chorus Line is written to be performed without an intermission. It is done that way on purpose. Michael Bennett directed/choreographed his shows so that they flew at lighting pace, and in the instance of A Chorus Line, so that the audience could not catch its breath fully as one number and scene follows the other. There is no time for reflection intended in the script. Just like the auditioners, the audience is swept along in the drama without time to fully ponder what they have just seen — rather to experience that same movement that pushes the auditions along. Individual thoughts and experiences are heartfelt and resonate with some audience members. Others do not. But no matter what, the show needs to barrel along like a locomotive building up speed until that final stage tableux when the chosen rejoice. That is the magic of A Chorus Line.

That magic is ruined here. In the middle of the show, Zach announces “a 15 minute break”, and viola, intermission. This completely kills the integrity of the piece and ruins the pacing. It also allows the audience too much time to reflect on what they have seen, ruining the theatrical experience. There is already an intermission written into the show for the performers and musicians during the extended Paul sequence. That was deliberately built into the show at that point.

I blame this totally on the member/s of the production team that decided that the misbegotten idea of adding an intermission was a good one. Since I do not know who made that decision, I can only place the blame on Croswell. This can be salvaged by eliminating that intermission from the remaining performances.

Overall, the show is generally well-done; if not perfect. It continues through July 18th at Croswell Opera House, Adrian Michigan. Tickets: 517-264-7469, or online at croswell.org

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