Theatre Tulsa continues a very challenging slate of plays this season with its current production of A Chorus Line at the PAC. It’s an entertaining evening of theatre. TT has assembled a talented cast and director Sara Phoenix has done a good job of showcasing their strengths.
The history of A Chorus Line is one of those legendary stories that makes Broadway sound like an enchanted kingdom where everyone’s dreams come true. It started with a series of dance workshops, just a bunch of chorus line “gypsies”( New York dancers always looking for the next musical to audition for), and miraculously developed into a brilliant show that won every Tony in sight and became the longest running musical ever on Broadway (since surpassed but still #6 on the list). Not only that, it took the lives of these unsung ‘working class’ artists and made them the center of the story. Unsung became sung. Some of these dancers went from unknown chorus members to Tony award-winners starring in a show based on their own lives. And it happened almost overnight. It’s just the kind of thing that happens every day on Broadway. Well, in your dreams.
What gives the show authenticity is the fact that the stories it tells, of the lives of the 17 dancers trying out for 8 parts, give its audiences a glimpse into the reality of a dancer’s life, and the precariousness of a career based on fast-fading looks and talent that can disappear with a single injury. The glimpses it offers of the pain that lies behind the forced audition-smiles of the dancers feel honest, in no small part because they’re based, at least to some extent, on the real life experiences of the original cast.
The casting challenge of A Chorus Line isn’t just that it requires an actor to sing, dance, and act, i.e. to be the so-called triple threat. It requires seventeen triple threats. The current cast contains a fair number of these, though 17 is a little bit of a stretch. I think it’s fair to attribute some of that to the fact that up until a couple of years ago, there weren’t very many musicals being done by local companies. Dancers in particular weren’t valued or involved in local theatre. We had dancers in dance companies, and actors in community theatres, and never the twain would meet. The big upswing in the number of musicals by companies such as Tulsa Project Theatre, Theatre Tulsa, and others will hopefully encourage local artists to expand their talents and to stay in town once they do.
The show Friday night had lots of standout moments. Aarika Trabona’s two solos, including “What I Did for Love,” were stellar, she has a truly beautiful voice and Tulsa is lucky she’s moved here after 4 years in the biz in New York. I haven’t seen Roderick Hudson onstage in a while, and he impressed me both with a charismatic stage presence that’s grown tremendously since I saw him last, and the seemingly effortless way he handled his solo, an jazz tinged piece I can’t find in the program, but that required him to shift from spoken word to full voice singing and everything in between. Very nicely done.
The high point solo, as I imagine it is for most productions, was Kaley Durland’s “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” more affectionately known as “Tits and Ass.” Durland absolutely nailed this paean to silicone, and pulled off the best moment of the night.
Returning to this idea of triple threats, several cast members stood out in being able to handle all three with verve and confidence. In particular, I thought Andi Powers, Trevor Mastin, and Kristin Harding gave solid performances and helped anchor the ensemble.
I could go on, but really everyone brought something to the table, and there were no weak members of the cast. Limitations? Well, you'd have a hard time getting 17 triple threats to come out to one audition in Tulsa. Dance was what usually came up short. Not that the cast couldn’t dance the numbers—Sara Phoenix and choreographer Jennifer Alden made sure that what was onstage looked sharp. But for a show about dancers, it was oddly static at times. A couple of numbers ranked fairly low in difficulty, which usually meant they looked polished but ‘safe’. It may be the nature of our oldest, most well-known theatre company to prefer polished over risky for their mainstage productions, but my personal favorite dance number was the opening, the ‘early’ audition when energy trumped perfection and every dancer executed the moves in a more individualistic way. Of course, real chorus lines have to be almost mechanical in execution, so I get why the choice was made. It doesn’t change the fact that I would have rather seen something a little riskier.
Still, another entertaining, engaging evening of local theatre, continuing proof that nothing beats live entertainment. And I shouldn’t end this review without mentioning that my wife and I got in for $20 apiece because of Theatre Tulsa’s 3 ticket package for the last shows of their season. No service charges and a bargain price, and just as easy to get reservations as spending twice as much money going through the PAC’s website. Wish I’d seen it earlier so as to clue in my loyal readers to the bargain, but a word to the other theatre companies—Do this! (Well, that’s two words, but you know what I mean)
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