Bill Gale reviews "A Chorus Line"

Providence, R.I. – Can it really be that Michael Bennett's "A Chorus Line" is approaching middle age? That its first performances, at the Public Theater in New York's Greenwich
Village, took place more than 35 years ago?

Yes, it can. "A Chorus Line," which many people -- including me -- call their most beloved musical, has been on stage since 1975. Conceived after long nights of recorded heart-to-heart talk by a group of professional dancers, its story of coming to terms with who you are and where you are has been literally all over the world. If it's Seattle then it was also Singapore. St. Petersburg, Florida? St. Petersburg, Russia, too.

And we longtime fans demand it be treated well; not sugar-coated, but performed with love and passion.

At Theater-by-the-Sea in Matunuck that goal is being met. This "Chorus Line" is not perfect by a long shot. Some of the singing is below par, too much of the material is overdone and the jewel box theater's performing space is way too small.

But directed by "Chorus Line" veteran Mitzi Hamilton, this version just catches the essence of a work of art that is all about art.

You remember the story. Dancers -- known as gypsies in the New York show biz world -- tell of their lives. A young woman has not become a ballerina, but at least she's still dancing. A young man has suffered the pain of being different, of being gay, in a time of great intolerance. But he has, at last, found himself before disaster strikes, that is. Another woman remembers a nasty theater "teacher" whose strangled hold she's finally escaped.

All of these and more talk of their love of dancing, of how it has been the one constant allowing them to work through their troubles, bringing them fulfillment.
The genius of "A Chorus Line" is that Bennett and writers James Kirkwood and Nicolas Dante show you the blood and guts of these stories with a realistic hard-nosed attitude. This is no "poor me" session. It's people coping. And that allows many of us to understand it, even if we can't dance a step.

Add to this the music and lyrics of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban and you have a landmark musical.

At Theatre-by-the-Sea, there are a number of strong performances. The theater's producing artistic director, Aimee Turner, has placed herself in the pivotal role of Cassie, a once near-star now trying to hold to a last shot as a chorus girl.
This could have been nothing but producer's star turn. However, Turner provides the necessary need and passion, singing well, dancing adequately, as she brings Cassie to vibrant life.

Jennifer Rias overdoes "Nothing" the song about that nasty teacher. But later he's vocally splendid on the anthem of "A Chorus Line," "What I Did For Love." Tom Berklund is harsher than necessary at times as the director -- and former lover of Cassie -- but he, too, creates a man coming to terms with his life.

And that's what this show is about. It's people striving and losing and -- thank goodness -- finally knowing what they need, what they care for, what they are willing to do for love.

"A Chorus Line" continues at Theatre-by-the-Sea in Matunuck through June 20. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for WRNI.