Before 1975, most Broadway theatergoers probably hadn’t given much thought to “the chorus,” those anonymous singers and dancers who backed up the stars that locals and out-of-towners were paying big bucks to see.  For most, these chorus boys and girls were simply the nameless/faceless citizens of River City, Iowa, or Covent Garden, London, or Anatevka, Russia.

A Chorus Line changed all that by giving musical theater audiences their first glimpse into the lives, hopes, fears, challenges, and dreams of a dozen and a half young “Broadway Babies,” who (to paraphrase Stephen Sondheim)  kept on pounding 42nd Street day after day in hopes of being “in a show.”  Along the way, this truly revolutionary musical dealt with issues of race and sexuality even as it offered its audiences great big flashy production numbers choreographed by the legendary Michael Bennett.

Now the fifth-longest-running musical in Broadway history, A Chorus Line (book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and concept and original direction/choreography by Bennett) remains as fresh, as entertaining, and as powerful as ever …  a full thirty-seven years after its World Premiere.

 Take for instance 3-D Theatrical’s nigh-on perfect revival of the Broadway classic.  With T.J. Dawson confidently in the director’s chair, Linda Love-Simmons recreating Bennett’s iconic choreography, and a cast composed of some of Southern California’s most gifted triple-threats, this A Chorus Line revival provides ACL virgins with a couldn’t-be-better introduction to the show at the same time as it offers A Chorus Line vets a wholly satisfying return visit.

The show opener, “I Hope I Get It,” still packs the same wham-bang punch as ever, with its two-dozen auditioners once again executing those signature Bennett leaps stunningly recreated by choreographer (and A Chorus Line vet) Love-Simmons.

Michael Paternostro, who played Gregory in the original cast of the recent Broadway revival, graduates impressively to the role of Zach, the imperious director-choreographer of an unnamed Broadway-bound show whose aspiring ensemble members have today reached the final round of auditions.  With the help of his faithful Boy Friday Larry (Chester Lockhart), Zach must now whittle down the seventeen finalists to a mere four boys and four girls.  To do so, the Michael Bennett stand-in has decided to go beyond the usual testing of song-and-dance expertise, the better to probe more deeply into just what makes these young gypsies tick, and little by little, he and the audience get to know each of them up close and personal.

These would-be Chorus Liners are (in no particular order):

•     Peppy Mike (Venny Carranza), who as a child tagged along to his older sister’s dance class and discovered to his delight that “I Can Do That.”

•     Maggie (Kristen Lamoureux), the product of a broken home, who recalls how her life changed “At The Ballet,” along with the lives of sweet, shy Bebe (Hannah Simmons) and soon-to-be-30 diva Sheila (Tomasina Abate)

•     Chinatown native Connie (Momoko Sugai), still able to play teen roles despite having been born in the Year Of The Chicken some thirty-plus years ago.

•     Flamboyantly fabulous Gregory Gardner (Daniel A. Smith), born Sidney Kenneth Beckenstein, who discovered his sexual identity when the girl he was fondling asked if he wanted to move to second base, causing him to realize that his one-word response was “No!”

•     Cassie (Alexis A. Carra), one of Zach’s exes, who finds herself back on square one (i.e. a spot in the chorus) following several featured roles on the Great White Way.

•     Feisty Don (Carson Twitchell), former strip club employee turned hoofer … and father of two.

•     Bobby (Shane Orser), who’s come a long, long way since growing up “different” in conservative Buffalo, NY.

•     Gawky, quirky Judy (Adrianna Rose Lyons), who recalls the joy she felt dancing around the living room for her first audience (of one)—her Daddy.

•     African-American Richie (Anthony Chatmon), who very nearly became a kindergarten teacher before he thought to himself “Shit!”—and changed his life path.

•     Married couple Al (Juan Gullen) and Kristine (Theresa Murray), who describe in song what it’s like for a would-be triple-threat (Kristine) to be unfortunately unable to “Sing.”

•     Formerly homely Val (Cassie Silva), who, upon discovering after an audition that she’d been rated “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” decided on the spot to go and get herself some “tits and ass.”

•     Mark (Jacob Haren), the baby of the group, who recalls his first wet dream and the self-diagnosis he came up with—gonorrhea.

•     Puerto Rican Paul (Kavin Panmeechao), who began his stage career in female drag while still a teen, only to have his old-country parents discover him making his living in high heels and a feathered headdress.

•     Diana (Robin De Lano), who realized in her high school acting class that when her fellow students were busy “becoming” bobsleds, tables, sports cars, and ice cream cones, all she was able to feel was … “Nothing.”

Only a cast of bona fide triple-threats capable of convincing you that they are indeed ready for their first (or next) Broadway show have it in them to bring the abovementioned characters to believable life, one reason that in this reviewer’s humble opinion, theatergoers should probably avoid all but the most professional of A Chorus Lines.

Fortunately, 3-D Theatricals has once again recruited a sensational cast of Southern California talents, each of whom is more than able to meet the challenges of this most challenging of shows—and come out a champ.

Abate, Carra, Carranza, Chatmon, De Lano, Guillen, Haren, Lamoureux, Lockhart, Lyons, Murray, Orser, Panmeechao, Paternostro, Silva, Simmons, Smith, Sugai, and Twitchell are each as good as it gets, with special mention due those with big solo numbers: Carranza’s snappy “I Can Do That,” Guillen and Murray’s delightful “Sing,” De Lano’s zingy “Nothing” and exquisite “What I Did For Love,” and Silva’s sexy, saucy “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.”

Though most of A Chorus Line’s stories are told in song, the production’s biggest dramatic challenge goes to the actor playing Paul, and Panmeechao’s exquisitely rendered confessional monolog is powerful, riveting, and heartbreaking.

Best of all, there is gorgeous young Broadway vet Carra, recreating Donna McKechnie’s signature “The Music And The Mirror” with such breathtaking dazzle that I felt I was seeing the number for the first time.

Completing the cast are the six dancers eliminated about thirteen minutes into the show, and if the mark of a Broadway-caliber ensemble is that each and every one is ready to step into a leading role, then Casey Canino (Tricia), Raymond Matsamura (Tom), Cameron McLendon (Vicki), Thomas Roy (Butch), Dennis Tong (Frank), Tory Trowbridge (Lois) and Jon M. Wailin (Roy) prove themselves more than ready for their moments in the spotlight.

The production’s set design (courtesy of Musical Theatre West) recreates the 1975 original, possibly the simplest in Broadway history—a bare stage backed with a wall of mirrors, lit with ample razzle-dazzle by Jared A. Sayeg, recreating Broadway legend Tharon Musser’s original lighting design. Yolanda Rowell has coordinated and Jose M. Rivera provided and adapted the Theoni V. Aldredge-inspired costume designs we’ve come to associate with each character, with those gold lamé finale costumes provided by Baayork Lee & National Asian Artist Project. Finally, with musical director Julie Lamoureux conducting a Broadway-ready pit orchestra and sound designer John Feinstein mixing instrumentals and vocals to perfection, this is one terrific-sounding A Chorus Line. Orchestrations are by Jonathan Tunick, Bill Byers, and Hershy Kay, with vocal arrangements by Don Pippin. Terry Hanrahan wears three hats, as prop coordinator, assistant stage manager, and production manager. Jeanette Dawson is assistant director/co-producer. Daniel Dawson and Gretchen Dawson are co-producers. William Coiner is production stage manager.

Beginning with 3-D’s next production (the Southern California Professional Regional Premiere of Avenue Q), 3-D shows will be playing an extra weekend at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, terrific news for South Bay theatergoers.  In the meantime, A Chorus Line will be bringing its magic to Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium through May 27.  As someone who’s become a huge ACL fan, trust me. This is one A Chorus Line well worth standing in line for.

3-D Theatricals, Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
May 12, 2012
Photos: Isaac James Creative

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