At eight years old the best reward I could hope for was a chance to listen to my mother’s vinyl copy of A Chorus Line. Years before I had my first opportunity to see a production, I’d memorized the words to every song. My favorite was “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Careful to step lightly so the record didn’t skip, I’d twirl around the living room braying the song’s refrain: “Tits and ass, stage and balcony. What they want is what cha see.”
A Chorus Line was first produced in 1975 and offers a behind the scenes look at the life of dancers drawn to New York, each desperate to find stardom. Based on the anecdotes of actual dancers, several of whom joined the first cast, the show went on to win the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for drama not to mention nine Tony’s.
Last weekend I had the mixed pleasure of revisiting what has become one of my top five favorite musicals. Staged by Aurora’s charming Paramount Theatre, the show is directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton, a veteran of the original London company and the inspiration for one of the lead roles.
“It's my homage to (original director/choreographer) Michael Bennett,” Hamilton tells me. “He created a perfect musical; seamless. [The show] gives the dancer a chance to be in the spotlight. It celebrates their sacrifices and hard work.” Revisiting the show she adds is “like coming home.”
Having only seen Broadway touring productions, my expectations were perhaps inflated. Though Hamilton’s choreography compelled, several vocalists seemed to aim at rather than hit their notes. Still, Paramount’s production boasted several standout singers, specifically Katie Spelman as Maggie. Kevin Curtis (Richie) showed off some eye-popping gymnastic dances moves as well.
At heart however, A Chorus Line is a series of character studies, and if actors are encouraged toward cartoonish, larger than life portrayals, the show falls flat. Though Pegah Kadkhodaian delivered a model Morales, several more minor roles seemed inhabited by women directed to inflate their renderings to the point of caricature. Yet even when imperfect, A Chorus Line remains a favorite; it’s spirit cannot help but shine through.