Earlier this season, Compass Rose Theater moved out of their permanent home and took up residence in the Loews Annapolis Hotel on West Street until a new space can be built. Knowing this, I assume they chose carefully what shows to produce this season. Because of this forethought, their production of “A Chorus Line” (directed beautifully by Lucinda Merry-Browne) was almost flawless in its creativity and talent. In a larger or more intricate space, the production would not have felt nearly the same. In this small room at the Loews – roughly the size of a rehearsal room – the production took flight.
The ensemble entered the room, not from behind a curtain, but through the main doors of the space, which really set the tone for the performance. The stark stage within the space, included only a few mirrors, and nothing else. When the cast is as talented as this ensemble is, you don’t need much to highlight their work. While the characters prepared for their “audition” onstage – putting their dance shoes on, and warming up – Zach (Sam Midwood), the director wandered the room sizing up the dancers. As the only non-dancer in the cast, Midwood spent the show acting as a sounding board for the characters. Though he portrayed the rough exterior of a man in charge, Midwood also showed heart and compassion for those men and women behind the stories.
The extremely talented ensemble was made up a diverse cast of characters, which was refreshing to see. They each reacted to Zach’s criticism and praise in very different ways, that spoke to the heart of each character. Paul (Daren Liff), the slightly older than the rest dancer only wanted to be seen for his dancing. The gravity of his story wasn’t played off. Liff handled it with depth and heart. In comparison, Val’s (Jana Bernard) ode to what got her to where she wants to be provided a bit of levity in the midst of rehearsals. Bernard nailed that performance of a very funny (and slightly vulgar) song and looked like she had a blast doing it.
Echoing a real rehearsal room, the performers were accompanied by only a single piano player (Sangah Purinton). No other musical accompaniment was provided. This allowed the show to focus solely on the work of this ensemble of talented dancers and singers. And “A Chorus Line” is truly one of the all-time great ensemble shows – with the dance routines, and harmonies, it can fall apart quickly if the right group of people aren’t cast. But in this instance, the entire company worked beautifully together. There wasn’t a single actor in the cast that wasn’t perfectly placed there. Each actor managed to take these very different characters and make them their own, while also blending them seamlessly with the others in the audition room. And this was no easy feat, I’m sure.
In a script that included singing well and singing not so well, dancing well, and dancing not so well, comedy and drama, the cast had their work cut out for them. While the creativity of the choreography (expertly staged by choreographer Liz Tenuto) was impressive through most of the show, I found myself especially impressed by the actors during the many group dance sequences. Some had the difficult task of looking like they didn’t know the choreography while their counterparts were dancing perfectly in time. One false move in the sequence, and the dialogue calling them out for slipping would have changed the storyline. Yet those mistakes never happened. I can’t say enough about the talent in this impressive ensemble.
My only complaint in the production was a bit of dialogue that was difficult to place in time. Within the show, characters mentioned watching movies with Barbra Streisand and Cyd Charisse as children, and driving around in a pink Cadillac – which placed the show roughly in the late 70s as it was in the original. However, Keanu Reeves and Nicholas Cage were also mentioned, which would likely place the show in the current time period. Because of this, I found it difficult to track when in time the characters’ stories were occurring. While it may have pulled me out of the action a bit, this small detail didn’t rob those same stories of their power.
We the audience are finally given the opportunity to witness what this ensemble can do together, if they’re only given the chance.
At its heart, “A Chorus Line” is a fairly heartbreaking work. It asks its audience to fall in love with these characters through life stories while Zach slowly weeds them out one by one. Going into it, you know this will happen, just as the characters know, and yet I was still silently optimistic that Zach would hire them all after he saw their talent. For this reason, the final production number of “One” is just as effective now as it was when the production premiered in 1976. We the audience are finally given the opportunity to witness what this ensemble can do together, if they’re only given the chance. This beautifully sincere moment, aided by glitzy golden costumes (which have become this show’s signature over the last 40 years) acts as a culmination of the past 2 hours of “rehearsals.” Long after the last chords of the song have been played, the superb talent of this particular production continues on.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission
Advisory: Language and Adult themes
“A Chorus Line” plays through May 20, 2018 at the Power House Building at the Loews Hotel – 126 West Street, Annapolis MD, 21401. For tickets call (410)980-6662 or purchase online.