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.
Timeline Theatre’s Enron on the other hand could not be less likely to thrill me. I can’t sit still for more than ninety minutes and my relationship to economics is one of fear and avoidance. A nearly two and a half hour play rooted in economic concepts? At best I expected an education, at worst a dry college lecture. Enron certainly educates. The program alone comes equipped with a timeline and set of definitions to assist audience members in conceptualizing the headier economic terms. Yet the moment the show opens with the first of many clever visual metaphors, it’s clear Enron will defy expectations.
A witty, at times absurdist take on the rise and fall of the infamous energy company, Lucy Prebble’s script grounds the company’s actions in character development, right away supplying the audience with insight into how Enron ascended before crashing and burning. Marrying apt metaphor with stirring language, all based in realistic dialogue, Prebble provides Timeline Theatre’s capable actors with meaty roles.
The production itself-- fast, smooth and elegant, explodes with unexpected moments, a fluid fight scene, clever costumes, and seamlessly integrated multi-media. Even scene changes, stylized and intricately choreographed provide a pleasurable diversion. Bret Tuomi as the “Caveat Emptor” espousing Jeffrey Skilling is less iniquitous, more misguided and brings significant prowess to bear. Prebble’s choice to appeal to Skilling’s relationship with his daughter (Caroline Heffernan) as a means to humanize him seems cliché, however Heffernan, appearing via video-screen, does characteristically fantastic work in regrettably brief scenes.
While the show misfired in New York, director Rachel Rockwell’s rendering hits all the right notes. No less cutting for its compassion, Enron’s incisive look at the people who comprise a behemoth contextualizes an epic 1990’s event still eerily pertinent today.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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