Review: Between High Kicks, Porchlight’s A Chorus Line Delivers a Timeless Story

There are a few moments of Porchlight Music Theater’s production of A Chorus Line that haven’t aged particularly well. In particular, dated and obscure references to pop culture fall flat, even though we know we’ve been transported back to a dance audition on Broadway in the middle of the 1970s. For the majority of the audience at Thursday evening’s performance, who (based on my own very non-scientific observations) seemed to have been already well into adulthood when the show opened some 45 years ago, those moments likely felt as natural as any.

Photo by Michael Courier

Thankfully, members of any generation will find plenty to appreciate in this production of the Broadway smash (it was the longest running show in history until Cats usurped it in 1997) directed by Brenda Didier. Like the musical about jellicle cats, A Chorus Line doesn’t have a plot, per se. With a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, the show is instead interested in exploring the inner lives of the dozens of unnamed faces high-kicking and leaping in the background of theater’s most boisterous shows. A character study that unfolds in vignettes, each of the 17 dancers auditioning for the unnamed new show emerges over the course of the two hours (sans intermission) as fully drawn human beings with passions and weaknesses, traumas and triumphs. 

The first half of the show sees all the dancers literally on a line downstage, on display for Zach (Richard Strimer), the show-within-a-show’s director who’s trying to find the four men and four women who’ll make up the chorus. He’s taking a new approach, one that’s a bit unsettling to these hoofers used to singing (and dancing) for their supper: he wants them to talk. Just talk. About themselves, their lives, their experiences. On the surface, the premise is shaky at best; without much of a narrative arc to connect it all, why should we care about how he got into dancing or why she’s determined to make the cut? And certainly, some moments in the show drag ever so slightly, feeling a bit like filler as this or that minor character injects a few lines to bridge the gap between major numbers. 

Where the show finds its footing is in each of the actor’s commitment to differentiating their character from the rest of the ensemble. Standouts include Erica Evans as Sheila, a tall drink of water who knows just how good she is and isn’t afraid to tell you; Adrienne Velasco-Storrs as Diana, a Puerto Rican born in the Bronx and consistently underestimated (her delivery of the show’s anthem “What I Did for Love” will have you sitting up in your seat); and Laura Savage as Cassie, a seasoned performer who’s got a past with Zach (Savage’s solo dance number is riveting). Choreographer Chris Carter manages to make the very most of the Ruth Page Center’s relatively tiny stage, and the most impressive moments of the show are when the entire ensemble fills it with their twirls and high kicks. And of course, the classic “One” is a highlight both during the show and as a curtain call, the cast’s sharp, deliberate gestures delivered so perfectly on point that The Rockettes would be jealous.

Whether A Chorus Line stands up as an essential entry in Broadway’s long and storied history of American musicals is debatable; throughout, I found myself wondering if the show could do with some updating, moving the proceedings forward in time a decade or three. Because what’s at the core of the show—the universal struggle to persevere, to chase a dream, to live as one’s truest self—is timeless.

A Chorus Line has been extended at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts through May 31. A performance schedule and tickets can be found online here.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone