Tuesday, July 4, 2023

"A Chorus Line" ★ ★ ★ ★

There is little left to write that has not already been written about "A Chorus Line," except that the show premiered in 1975, which is as far from this writer's 2023 IPad as 1917 was when I first heard the Beatles and typed my term papers with carbon paper.

I was then the same age as most of these Chorus Line dancers. 1917 was an ancient history book. World War I. Carbon paper. A typewriter. 

Now we know that stories are the only things that survive. This is in many ways the underlining theme that is being acted out here on stage. Art endures. A dancer dances, a writer writes, a composer composes and if they succeed they capture the times in which they live. The issues never change. Only the outfits.

The SFP production is the outlier today that it was in 1975: a two hour show without an intermission. We discover our attention spans are not as short as advertised.

Late in the action, one character muses on how Broadway no longer is hiring as many dancers (in 1975) as they once were. Of course, this is before so many chorus lines around the world would be decimated by the plague of the 1980s, but no one knew about that in 1975, when the worst thing that could happen was not to get a desperately needed job. 

Original choreography by Michael Bennett, a giant of the era, should be enough to bring anyone into this show. San Francisco Playhouse empties out its entire stage to make room for 21 dancers and succeeds wildly. The opening sequence, featuring "I Hope I Get it," and I Can Do That," two of fourteen songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, tell the whole story with no explanations needed.

You all know the plot: 17 dancers vying for 8 spots. Their personal trials and what has led them from around the country to an audition room in New York. We, the audience, get to root for our favorites to be picked. And then -- you may need to be reminded. We promise you will be moved now, in our age of robotics and AI, as much as you were when we were all just hoping to be asked to dance. 

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants Four Stars ★ ★ ★ ★  to "A Chorus Line." Yes, the story is long and somewhat implausible ( a casting director actually taking the time to query the dancers as to their feelings), but at its center is love for what we all do. "God, I'm a dancer.  A dancer dances." 

Special mention to Dave Dobrusky for leading a flawless band through a precise and difficult score, to  director Bill English for figuring out where to put all those people, and to Nicole Helfer for keeping them graceful. From the cast, we especially love Danielle Cheiken's Maggie (on left in photo above) and Samantha Rose Cárdenas's Diana (center, below). But these are only two of a standout cast. For us, they all get the job.

"A Chorus Line"

San Francisco Playhouse

450 Post St., San Frqncisco

2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel

Through Sept. 9 (Long Summer Run)


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