Compass Rose Theater’s A Chorus Line

This wonderful production gives us deep emotions and high elation 

        A Chorus Line debuted on Broadway in 1975 and set records by running for more than 6,000 performances. The production now running at Compass Rose Theater, scheduled to close May 20, deserves to set records of its own.

         Led by director Lucinda Merry-Browne and choreographer Liz Tenuto, Compass Rose’s abbreviated cast of 11 — the original cast was 17 — is stocked with triple threats; each is a unique personality who can act, sing and dance. The relatively small space at the Loew’s Hotel Powerhouse Building, essentially a dance floor surrounded on three sides by chairs, may have necessitated the smaller cast. But nothing is missing as this multi-talented troupe brings to life the story of dedicated Broadway aspirants, all with their own reasons for needing the chorus line job for which they are auditioning — as well as the unique personal challenges they hurdled to get there.

         As Zach, the director who is running the audition, Sam Midwood is demanding yet empathetic, a taskmaster who pushes for technical perfection yet urges the dancers to reveal themselves to the others. Midwood keeps things moving and is the perfect anchor for the emotional and often hilarious moments he evokes.

         The many now–classic songs were crafted by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, whose score won one of the show’s nine Tonys. At Compass Rose, performed by this impressive cast, these songs are not so much revived as they are reinvigorated, giving life to the unique meaning of each.

         And the dancing … oh, the dancing. These are not merely actors who can be taught a few steps to make it look real. These are the real thing, true dancers who know how to tell a story through their bodies, to express their individual attitudes even as they are perfectly synchronized. There are so many special moments, both from individuals as well as the company as a whole, that attempting to describe them here would seem to be a disservice to their impact in person.

         A taste of the disappointment that is show business comes early, as Mariel White’s Tricia is told thanks but no thanks after giving her all during early audition moves. The group’s “I Hope I Get It” leads us to more intimate revelations. One comes in “At the Ballet,” sung beautifully by Jana Bernard as the blonde bombshell Val, Angie Colonna-Terrell as the confident Kristine and Hollis Williams as the wisecracking yet ultimately vulnerable Sheila.

         Melissa Perry as saucy Puerto Rican Diana gives us “Nothing,” the haunting story of her humiliation at the hands of an overbearing theater teacher. As Cassie, the Broadway veteran whose early star faded fast but who still loves “the line,” Holly Wilder makes “The Music and the Mirror” a breathtaking close to Act I.

         Jorge Echeverreia’s Mark in “Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love” gives us his hilarious scare as a young teen thinking he has contracted a social disease when in actuality it was just … well, something every young teen male experiences as a first. Tyler Donovan as Mike and Justin Geiss as Bobby combine on the rat-a-tat “I Can Do That.”

         Daren Liff as Paul opens Act II with a heartbreaking monologue about his early career in a drag club, his homosexuality and his parents’ discovery of his lifestyle. Later, after Paul is hurt doing a step and is carted off to the hospital, they all, led by William’s Sheila, blend in gorgeous harmony on “What I Did for Love.” It’s all done with the accompaniment of a single piano, so expertly played by music director Sangah Purinton that we forget we’re not listening to a full orchestra.  

         And, of course, comes the famous finale, when the dancers all trade in their rag-tag rehearsal togs and emerge from backstage one at a time in matching, flashy gold spangled costumes and top hats, singing and dancing the singular sensation “One.”

         As these unique yet synchronized personalities strut their stuff just feet away from us, we are reminded that true art, the kind that reaches into your soul, does not happen by accident. It happens because a unique love pushes very talented people to make the kind of sacrifice that just might bring success, however each of them measures it. In the case of Compass Rose’s A Chorus Line, success is realized in the deep emotions and high elation this wonderful production makes us feel.

 

         Production manager: Keegan Patterson. Costumer: Renee Vergauwen. Stage managers: Mary Ruth Cowgill and Katie Boothroyd; tickets $23-$38 at compassrosetheater.org.

         About two and one half hours with one intermission. Playing thru May 20: FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm, SuTh 7pm, Power House Building, Loews Hotel, Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.