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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

REVIEW: "A CHORUS LINE" AT THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE KICKS AWAY YOUR ILLUSIONS ABOUT A LIFE IN THE ARTS


Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre high kicked, tapped, and sang its way into the 2014-2015 season with the Broadway hit musical "A Chorus Line" (September 3-28), and during the drive home on opening night, my husband and I talked about its pluses (many) and minuses (very few.) I also wondered aloud why chorus lines themselves hold so much appeal, for the people in them and the people admiring them. Why does mankind need chorus lines? The answer is deep, my friend, very deep. But first, let's talk about this show.


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
The musical takes us from auditions through the long and harrowing process of elimination that leads to the final selection and the chorus line's glittering finale. It's sometimes a brutal ride. The pressures of this ordeal bring out the angst, secret backgrounds, and emotional baggage of those who want, more than anything, to end up in the chorus line. Taking us along on the journey is a most talented groups of performers with full credentials. Chryssie Whitehead stars in the lead role of Cassie in a cast featuring not only many who have already made a name for themselves in Seattle, but also natives of several other Northwest cities, such as Tacoma*, Bellevue, Everett, and Portland. 


Chryssie Whitehead stars as Cassie in The 5th Avenue Theatre's production of A Chorus Line.  
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
If singing and dancing are the strength of this entertainment genre, in this case, the dancing was stronger than the singing, in my opinion, only because the dancing was unbeatable. When small groups merged into one, the perfect choreography, the professionalism, the years of training, all showed. They were so together that it brought a thrill. 

The same applies to the 5th Avenue's outstanding orchestra. I've never heard those amazing musician sound better than on opening night of "A Chorus Line." In terms of aural delights, let me also complement the sound design as superb. Everything seemed well balanced and at just the right volume, at least from my seat. I always appreciate the lighting at this theater, and it, too, added so much, creating a jewel box of paints on a dark pallet one moment and an almost blinding golden nakedness of illumination the next. When it came to acting, my husband and I agreed that not a couple of cast members could not "sell" their characters as convincingly as others, but we still enjoyed the show. Kudos to all.


Richard Peacock plays Richie in A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.  
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
The long success of "A Chorus Line," must be based on the fact that we can all relate to it. Although few of us actually become professional dancers—or actors, musicians, or athletes, for that matter—almost everyone has, at some time in their lives, fantasized overcoming their fears and living their dreams of glory. This show might scare you or dare you. It shows you what life is really like for those who put their hearts, souls, and bodies literally "on the line" to express what they cannot suppress. If you've lived that dream, you will recognize yourself. If you've ever waited in a line of nervous junior high school Physical Education students, while the two best athletes take turns choosing their teams, you will recognize yourself. 

Think of all the bad situations that involve lines—suspects in a jail lineup, bread lines during the Great Depression, whimpering 1950s and '60s era school kids in line for vaccinations, the grocery store check stand at 5 p.m., gas rationing, Army draftees in Jockey shorts awaiting physicals, or the scene outside the ladies restroom during a short intermission. Even when they don't make us nervous or impatient, lines often make us compare ourselves to others, especially in situations of competition. Are we too tall or short, too fat or skinny, to early or late, old or young, good enough, smart enough, lucky enough? How do we measure up? 


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Tracy Martin
As I looked at all those very fit dancers on the stage—real people with their huge variety of body shapes and sizes, actually living the so-called "glamour" of showbiz—I knew they've all been in the place of their characters, feeling at times like the last kid picked for the basketball team. And therein lies the raw truth and beauty of humanity. We are, at once, all the same and all different, and our existence is naturally chaotic, a puzzle made of a million pieces that may never fit together.

So why do some of us love chorus lines? They fulfill our fantasy of creating order from that chaos, of harmoniously synchronized effort and perfect unity. Go see "A Chorus Line" if for no reason than to realize that the cast is portraying something at least partially autobiographical and that those compelled to perform do so as much for themselves as for the audience, pushing past universal fears and insecurities toward achievement. Admire their courage and applaud their victories, for they represent victory for all.


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
*Since I live in Tacoma, I especially want to mention Tacoma's own Greg McCormick Allen, who did a great job as "Larry" in this, his 23rd production at The 5th Avenue Theatre.