Saturday, October 22, 2011

"A Chorus Line" from Pittsburgh Playhouse

At it's best, "A Chorus Line" is an actual audition with tension and hunger bubbling just under the surface of the performers while they at first present their smiling faces to the director and then gradually are broken down until we see their true, human selves. At decent, "A Chorus Line" is a nostalgia show of the 70's with great songs and spirited dancing. The production at Pittsburgh Playhouse never quite reaches "A Chorus Line"'s best.

Now let it be known, "A Chorus Line" is a marathon for it's cast. It's almost two solid hours of dancing and singing, with almost all of the characters onstage all the time - and no intermission. However, what should also make it a marathon is the emotional journey these characters, who were developed in workshop with actual 1970's New York dancers, make. The cast, while extremely charismatic, has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer when it comes to crafting actual human beings. Take Sheila, played by Andrea Weinzierl, obviously an audience favorite, but her performance resembles Norma Desmond the entire show and doesn't stop - even after the director yells at her to drop the act and be real.

Unfortunately, that's about the tone for the rest of the cast made up of young Point Park performers. Not that this necessarily makes it a reason to avoid the show; it's still a fun night full of great songs, dancing, etc. There are, of course, stand outs, often found in the supporting roles. Among these are Sarah Meahl as a believably bubbly Judy, and Jordan P. Haskins as a disturbingly charming Bobby. Maggie, played by Sarah Chybrynski, drops audition pretenses for a beautiful solo in "At the Ballet". Richie, Marquis E. Johnson, is amazing in his short solos as he seemlessly connects his voice to the dance. Jessica Ruane as Diana ultimately ends up being the heart of the show with "What I did for love". And finally, Lily Davis as Cassie must be cited for her fine dancing and voice while Jerreme Rodriguez as Paul will have anyone who has ever questioned who they are in tears with his final monologue (and ultimate fate).

The costumes are believable to time period and the individual characters and really tell you something about each one, that goes for hairstyles too. However, Val, played by Nicole Soriano, has a great singing voice, but comes off almost as a demented Shirley Temple with babydoll-blond ringlet pigtails and tits SO fake-looking they are borderline distracting by their immobility through the bounciest of dance numbers. (It's interesting to see Val played for laughs instead of sex, though. Bold choice.)

In theory, the audtioners of "A Chorus Line" are in an empty theatre, playing to an audience of one - who is going to decide whether they have a reason to exist for the next six months or so. However, what may have stopped the cast from reaching the intimacy that comes from playing to an empty house may have been the rather bizarre sound system set up. The stage was miked, but the speakers were behind the audience, making voices, dance steps, etc. sound as though they were coming from the immediate back of the theatre. Also, at a point when Cassie is dancing with her back to the audience for a long period of time, the mirrors she faces are so cloudy, we the audience are completely cut off from the emotion of her face.

Truly bizarre,  but Eponymous begs the question why the stage was miked at all. The main stage of The Pittsburgh Playhouse is not that big considering most proscenioum stages, and there was no live orchestra as far as Eponymous could see (or read in the program). Perhaps the fact that the cast had to keep up with a pre-recorded track lent to the unnaturalness? Either way, the cast all but yells the entire show when they probably don't need to if the music was just turned down for dialogue. Worst of all, in fantastic ensemble numbers like the series of Montages ("Hello, Twelve", "Mother", etc.) great lines are muffled by said mikes and some characters are barely heard at all.

All in all Pittsburgh Playhouse's "A Chorus Line" is a nice night of nostalgia. The audience is invested in the show, and the actors obviously love what they are doing, so most everything else can be forgiven and is.

Pittsburgh Playhouse website -

- Eponymous has a note to other students of Point Park: We know your friends are singing and dancing, but stating their names out loud and "whoo-hooing" in an obnoxious A-flat does not enhance the viewing experience for those sitting next to you...or aid the actors. Simple, rabid hand-clapping will suffice in conveying your overwhelming joy and delight at seeing people you know onstage. 

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