A CHORUS LINE

Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island, Until September 2nd

My Two Cents

By Lillian Jasper

A Chorus Line holds a special place in the hearts of most theatre performers. It was one of the first meta-musicals that truly delved into the lives, hopes, dreams of the dancers who made up the chorus of Broadway shows. When it opened in 1975, many of the performers in the original production were essentially playing themselves. It was revolutionary for its time, and won the Tony award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Fighting Chance does an admirable job invigorating this classic in a way that feels fresh while still remaining true to the source material.

There is no set. When the audience enters, the stage is already full of dancers warming up, preparing for an audition. It’s fascinating to think that this was how the actors were cast in the first place. Everyone is fully committed from the get-go. The show itself is a marathon - 2 hours without intermission, much of which is dancing. There are no “lead” roles. Instead, 16 performers vie to be cast in the show-within-a-show, directed by Zach (Chris King, who spends most of his time sitting among the audience), and they take turns sharing the spotlight and baring their souls. Some have longer moments to shine, some have only a brief chance to show Zach (and us) what they can do. There are some truly exceptional performances, not the least of which is Lucia Forward as the over-qualified Hollywood-reject Cassie. Her every move is at once elegant and sharp, and she’s mesmerizing to watch. Jesse Alvarez makes the character of Paul his own and gives us what is arguably the most moving scene of the show. Other personal favourites include Kailley Roesler’s bubbly Kristine, Alishia Suitor and Lindsay Marshall as Sheila and Val respectively, who never let their strong female characters veer into caricature, and Marcel Tremel as Zach’s assistant Larry, who can get a giggle out of the audience with a mere glance. 

Occasionally, I found some of the acting to be a bit over-stylized, some of the singing a bit underwhelming, and some of the dancing a bit sloppy. In this hyper-realistic setting, where everyone is stripped metaphorically bare, any faults are on display. The show requires triple threats - skilled actors, dancers and singers. Rachel Carlson (director and choreographer) has assembled a formidable cast, so when some fall short in one of the disciplines, we forgive them due to the wealth of talent on stage. The dance numbers crackle with energy and passion. Due to the nature of the show, however, many of the performers feel underused, and moments go by so quickly that they don’t always register. It’s often difficult to tell who is singing during these sections, but perhaps that is the point - these are people who have been trained to blend in, not to pull focus. Overall, the singing and the music are fantastic, especially considering the amount of stamina it takes to produce sound while overexerting one’s body!

Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat jarring, leaving the audience confused as to whether the show was in fact over. Coupled with the fact that the entire cast participates in the finale, the formerly sparse stage feels cramped. It does not take away from the brilliance of earlier moments, but personally I would have preferred a different approach to the closing remarks. For something we’ve built up to over two hours, it feels rushed and abrupt. 

It is a testament to these performers, and especially to Ms. Carlson, that new life can still be breathed into this material after over 40 years. They show it due reverence without being intimidated by it. Vanessa Quarinto’s Diana sings the show’s most iconic number, “What I Did For Love”, with such earnestness that the words are made new again. The show feels so contemporary sometimes that a few of the topical references (Ed Sullivan, Robert Goulet) seem out-of-place. 

Once again, Fighting Chance provides a thrilling and engrossing musical production. A Chorus Line is a classic of Broadway for a reason. It’s a life-affirming show for anyone in theatre, and for those who simply enjoy attending, it can provide a glimpse of just how much blood, sweat and tears go into putting on a musical.