A Chorus Line, while dated in its treatment of a few of its characters, remains an easily enjoyable slice of classic Broadway song-and-dance, and it's currently getting a solid revival at SF Playhouse.
The small-scale stage at SF Playhouse has put on some impressive feats of large-scale musical-theater in the last few years, including very impressive productions of Sunday In the Park With George, Follies, and Mary Poppins. And in many ways, the current production, A Chorus Line, is no exception.
Finding 16 capable dancers who can do all the leaps, taps, and high-kicks required for this very kinetic, very dance-filled show, is a challenge at any regional theater. But this cast is solid when it comes to dancing, busting out the exhaustive opening number — which features a famous, difficult combination that was embraced by out-of-work, quarantining dancers during the early pandemic on YouTube — with aplomb.
Finding 16 capable dancers who are also solid singers is even more of a challenge, and luckily not all of the solo numbers in A Chorus Line were written for virtuosic singers. This is a show about dance, and dancers, and it grew out of several workshops with working Broadway dancers in 1974 who told their life stories on tape, and discussed the difficulties of the itinerant life of career dancers.
The premise, which feels like a bit of a stretch, is that a director named Zach (Keith Pinto) wants, during an audition, to get his prospective chorus members to open up about their lives and tell him something more about themselves than he can glean from their resumes. The conceit is that Zach wants his chorus to have some added personality and cohesion, so he needs to put them all through this on-stage therapy session.
The script gets into some dated territory in particular with its gay characters — especially with Paul (Alex Rodriguez), whom Zach targets for a deep dive into his past as a drag performer who was not out to his parents, and who was horrified one night when his parents came early to pick him up at a theater and saw him in full drag. It's one of the few points of tension in the show, which is dominated by upbeat and quirky numbers and story-songs. And just to drive home Paul's deep shame about his sexuality, he ends up being the only auditioner who gets injured in the end, and disqualified from being cast after he's helped limping off the stage.
There were standout performances by Alison Ewing as Sheila, the wizened elder of the bunch who is pushing 40 and who shines in one of the show's best songs, "At the Ballet"; Samantha Rose Cardenas as Diana, who gets the showstopper "What I Did For Love"; and Adria Swan as Cassie. A few understudies were on at the performance I saw and it may not be fair to judge the show on the basis of their solos — but here was where some of the shakiness came in with the singing.
Direction by Bill English, who serves as artistic director of SF Playhouse, was deft as always, and the show very much hits every intended beat and lands every joke. And Dance Captain Nicholas Yenson, who also plays Bobby, deserves praise along with Choreographer Nicole Helfer, for bringing much of Michael Bennett's original choreography to life.
While A Chorus Line has some drama and poignant moments, it is primarily a pretty light-hearted, easy-to-digest piece of theater — coming in at two hours with no intermission, just like the original. And, so, it's a fitting capper to SF Playhouse's season, running through the summer months when Union Square is most filled with tourists, and when people are going to the theater for a good time. The show is, without a doubt, a very good time.
'A Chorus Line' runs through September 16. Find tickets here.
Top image: Photo by Jessica Palopoli