Crown Uptown’s ‘A Chorus Line’ sparkles, uplifts

06/11/2012 5:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:33 AM

“A Chorus Line” probably has the best curtain call ever written for the Broadway stage because it actually means something to complete the story rather than just providing a convenient spot to honor the actors who’ve put their hearts and souls — and very busy feet — into their roles for the past two hours.

After we’ve watched 17 eager dance hopefuls desperately competing for only eight spots in the chorus line of an upcoming Broadway show, they return in triumph — and in identical glittery gold costumes — to strut their stuff a la opening night.

The exquisite irony, of course, is that the show’s purpose is to reveal all the hopes, dreams, loves, heartbreaks, quirks and foibles of the dancers to make them real individuals to us, then in one glossy, glitzy, high-kicking moment let them all recede back into lockstep anonymity. That dramatic depth is why the 1975 Tony Award-winner also has the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It’s a true American classic.

Crown Uptown Theatre’s spirited, often funny and occasionally heartbreaking new revival does this show proud in all its wit, substance and gravitas — as well as entertaining the heck out of us. There’s not a shaky cast member or a draggy moment, although there were a couple of minor microphone miscues opening night because of the complex action. That’s easily corrected for future performances.

Directed by Matthew Rumsey, the show is broken into two acts rather than run straight through as usual. Surprisingly, that doesn’t trip up the pace even for purists because Rumsey found a natural break that makes dramatic sense. He keeps the show firmly set in 1975 without trying to update cultural touchstones like Ed Sullivan, “Peyton Place” or Troy Donahue. But the show doesn’t feel either dated or nostalgic.

Rumsey and choreographer Gigi Gans Royle, who preserved many of Michael Bennett’s original steps but reinterpreted them with her own vision, make this show as fresh, surprising, thrilling and relevant as it was on opening night 37 years ago.

Bravo to all the cast members for bringing their quirky characters to credible, affecting life. In only a short time, we begin to know and care about each one and their life decisions and experiences that brought them together in this moment.

But there are a few that should be mentioned specifically. Luke Johnson is steady and authoritative while providing a rainbow of emotions as the demanding choreographer Zach, all done without benefit of gestures or facial expressions because he is essentially just a voice coming from the middle of the darkened auditorium.

Constanza Palavecino, a native Chilean now based in New York, plays defensive Puerto Rican dancer Diana Morales, who felt held back by bigoted teachers. Palavecino has a powerful and evocative voice that makes the crucial “What I Did For Love” indelible.

Allison Nock is a limber, long-legged dynamo for her dance solo to “The Music and the Mirror” as Cassie, who flopped as a soloist and is now crawling back to start over in the chorus. Kayla Peabody is a comic highlight as perky Val, a dance whiz in “Dance 10, Looks 3,” who discovers plastic surgery to get noticed — and hired.

Jacob January is hilarious as the flamboyantly gay Bobby, who carries on in silent pantomime during dream sequences. Aaron Craven as Zach’s assistant, Larry, and Michael Sherry as a Jewish dancer who hides his ethnicity under the pseudo-personality Gregory Gardner, have impressively strong, straight, rock-solid ballet extensions and jetes.

But the heart of the show is Ryan Naimy as Paul, whose revelations of child abuse, neglect and disapproval, and finally finding redemption in the beautiful fantasy world of dance, will break your heart — and lift your spirits.

The 10-member pit orchestra conducted by Philip Taylor under supervision of Jesse Warkentin provided strong, full support — particularly the reeds with a mellow, non-squeaky sax — for Marvin Hamlisch’s jazzy, award-winning score.

Move over, Val, this show is “Dance 10, Looks 10.”

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