AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Conceived and Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed by Mitzi Hamilton
Walnut Street Theatre
9th & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19107-5195
Extended through July 8, 2001
Website: Box Office: (215) 574-3550

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Ending their season with a bang, Walnut Street Theatre's current show is "A Chorus Line". Billed as the "most successful show on Broadway", it ran for 6,104 performances at the Shubert Theatre, won the Pulitzer Prize, nine Tonys and five Drama Desk Awards. It boasts the hit song, "What I Did for Love" as well as "The Music and the Mirror", "One", "Nothing" and "Dance: Ten: Looks: Three".

The show is a love song to the unsung heroes and heroines of the Broadway stage -- the "gypsies" -- the dancers who make up the chorus. Taking place on an empty Broadway Theater stage in 1975, it follows a group of 25 dancers go through a grueling audition process, wherein they share their hopes and dreams and intimate details of their personal lives which led them into a life in the theatre.

This production is directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton, one of the original dancers whose personal stories were tape-recorded by Bennett to become the basis for the show. Her experiences evolved into the character of Val, who sings, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three." Here Ms. Hamilton has recreated the original choreography by Michael Bennett and has managed to keep it fresh, for the show and the evening move at an invigorating pace.

With musical and vocal direction by Sherman Frank, this production of "A Chorus Line" is ultimately a very exciting one. The orchestra really cooks and the voices are very strong with only a few exceptions in the extremely talented ensemble. In order to be cast in this show one has to be a "triple threat" -- equally adept at dancing, singing and acting. To mention a few that are exceptional: Benjamin Cannon as Richie; Venny Carranza as Mike; Pamela Jordan as Sheila; Frankie X. Lausner as Greg; Betsi Morrison as Diana Morales; Spencer Rowe as Al; and Emily Rozek as Maggie. And Blane Savage is perfect as the hard driving, domineering director, Zach.

The only weak moment in the show is the number, "The Music and the Mirror". Nancy Hess, as Cassie, does a fine job of singing and acting the song, but when it comes to the extended star turn/dance break, she falls short of the mark. Technically, she can do the steps, but she doesn't move like a dancer. This is painfully evident in light of the fact that we have been watching so many other fine dancers on the stage all night long. In the original Broadway production, this was the show-stopping number that made Donna McKechnie a star, and we expect it to be thrilling if not dazzling.

The set by Christopher Hanes is simple, mobile and flashy and works well with Jeffrey S. Koger's lighting design. If you've never seen "A Chorus Line", now's the time to go. It's a thrilling show and this production is jam-packed with a talented cast and high production values.

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