By Peter Thomas Ricci
Over the years, Porchlight Theatre has established itself as one of Chicago’s finest interpreters of American musical theater, and the company’s new production of “A Chorus Line” is firmly in that tradition – bold, energetic, and beautiful, Porchlight and it’s creative team have staged a true tribute to not just the theater, but the hopes and dreams that make it what it is.
Given the show’s popularity, the setup for “A Chorus Line” will likely feel familiar: a large group of dancers and singers are auditioning for a select number of spots in the chorus line of an upcoming musical directed by Zach, a choreographer of Bob Fosse-esque renown and temperament. After the initial dancing sequence weeds out the weaker performers, Zach interrogates the dancers one by one – as he explains, this particular show requires the chorus line to deliver dialogue, and he wants the right dancers for the parts.
It is through those interviews that we learn about the performers, and although some of their stories are funny – for instance, one dancer remarks on how, as a boy, he thought a wet dream was a sign he had gonorrhea – what really unites the dancers is their urgency, even desperation, to thrive as professional Broadway performers. “Chorus Line” grew out of conversations that Michael Bennett shared with his fellow dancers in 1974, and that gripping authenticity – the fact that most dancers will not become the next Gwen Verdon – is why this production remains relevant, and Porchlight’s production beautifully captures that spirit.
Under the direction of Brenda Didier, the music direction of Linda Madonia, and the choreography of Christopher Chase Carter, Porchlight’s large cast thrives, with Laura Savage, Drew Tanabe, Adrienne Velasco-Storrs, and Alejandro Fonseca especially good in their dramatic sequences. Furthermore, the acrobatic dancing of Terrell Armstrong deserves special recognition, as does the big voice of Aalon Smith, a senior at Columbia College Chicago starring in her second Porchlight production (she was excellent in last fall’s production of “Gypsy”).
Overall, it makes for a delightful evening of musical theater, one that I am eager to once again experience.
Playing through May 31 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N Dearborn St, Chicago IL 60610
Tickets can be purchased at porchlightmusictheatre.org, or by calling 773-777-9884