IF YOU GO
What: Landmark musical about a group of dancers fighting for spots in a Broadway show
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday; 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: 5833 Pelican Bay Boulevard, Naples
Information: 800-597-1900 or thephil.org
Something Else: Park near the Wachovia Bank on Pelican Bay Boulevard for a quick exit, as Phil traffic is notoriously difficult.
NAPLES — "A Chorus Line" is like an old Broadway friend - a high-kicking, glitterific, top-hatted, bedazzled friend who's still funky, fun and exciting even after 35 years. The peek behind Broadway's casting curtain gives voice to dreams in a way few shows ever did - and turns a row of dancers staring out at the audience into compelling theater.
The show, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamslich, ran for 6,137 performances, becoming Broadway's longest-running show at the time. "Cats," "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera" have since passed it."
On a bare stage, lined up in leotards and T-shirts and dancewear, 17 dancers audition for a Broadway chorus line. The cast faces an intense grilling - complete with interrogation-style spotlights - from the director whittling the hopefuls to eight finalists. Personalities falter, then bloom. Secrets are revealed and hopes are shared. Stripped of sets, costumes and elaborate production numbers, the uncluttered "A Chorus Line" celebrates the persistence needed to climb Broadway's ladder.
The show jams 19 characters into two hours. Rebecca Riker (Cassie, the Donna McKechnie role) makes the most of her dance solo, spinning, twirling, sailing around the stage for an entrancing few minutes. Every scene earns (deserved, for once) applause from the audience, but Venditti recounts his character's childhood horrors in a broken voice and nervous twitch that merits special praise. Kristen Martin (Val) scores with "Dance Ten, Looks Three," revealing rant on her bootylicious secret to making it big on Broadway. Imperious Ashley Yeater (Sheila) does more with haughty looks than some actors do with entire scenes.
There's still plenty of hot-footed hoofing - the show isn't called "A Chorus Line" for nothing - but huge dance scenes on the scale of what audiences may be accustomed to are scarce. The show is more about the endless drudgery of tryouts - and the exquisite agony of fighting for a dream. Opener "I Hope I Get It" and closer "One: Reprise," with the cast in glittering golden costumes, are the real nods to Broadway's "stepping-out" shows.
For a show that depends heavily on spoken dialogue over grand production numbers, the Philharmonic's sound system does the cast no favors. Much of the prologue to the inspirational "What I Did For Love" comes off as mumbling, as do the words to Venditti's heartfelt confession. Other material scattered throughout the two-hour piece - both sung and spoken - suffers as well. Other technical details - notably the spotlight work - was excellent.
"A Chorus Line" entertains, certainly, but compared with the spectacles of modern-day musicals such as "Wicked," "Chicago," "Rent" or "The Color Purple," the muted pacing and tone of the production may seem slow. Seeing "Spring Awakening" and then "Chorus Line" on consecutive nights gave me a clear picture of just how far Broadway tilted toward "event musicals" over the past three decades.
Nevertheless, "A Chorus Line" still serves of two solid hours (no intermission) of hopeful, striving, climb-the-mountain escapism. The basic "dream, fight, live, struggle, strive" message resonates, even if the vehicle delivering the message might resemble a rusty clunker parked alongside the sleek sedans of modern Broadway.