Sunday, July 09, 2000

'Chorus Line' almost a singular sensation




By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fans of A Chorus Line really require only two things: a) that the ensemble be talented enough to pull it off; and b) don't mess with it, not with the staging, the choreography, not even the costumes.

        Hot Summer Nights opens its season with the classic American musical drama. A Chorus Line was the most asked-for show in an audience survey last year, and it's delivered the way audiences love it. There are plenty of highlights, but the show hasn't quite jelled. That should be resolved with more performances.

        For anyone who has somehow managed to miss the show for the last 25 years, it's about a grueling audition in which 17 hopefuls are vying for eight chorus slots.

        They don't just sing and dance. Director Zach (Thomas Christian Korbee Jr.) also performs a little unanaesthesized open heart surgery, demanding to know about their lives. Want the job? Pour out your guts. And they do, in song and dance.

        The cast sells the big numbers. Amy Downing, Jasmin Walker and Stephanie Youell, all entering their junior year in the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's musical theater department, are among the stand-outs and promise big things to come.

        Ms. Downing is Morales, who scores a couple of the show's biggest numbers, including its anthem “What I Did For Love.” Ms. Youell is frisky as can be as Val, the dancer who invests in some body work (“Dance Ten; Looks Three”), and Ms. Walker's performance should have made her character Maggie a shoo-in.

        That is part of the production's problem: director Richard Hess was working with a limited casting pool and a few performers are merely competent, although they're cast as the most talented.

        On opening night, Matthew Tweardy's dancing wasn't up to snuff, outperformed by most of the other men. Charmer Barry Horbal and Jason Patrick Sands are also juniors; it's great to have two more years to look forward to with all of them.

        Joshua Denning, as Richie, was recruited from Wright State. If he's any example, it must be a fine program.

        Kudos to Mr. Hess for finding a diverse cast, although apparently a diminutive Chinese female dancer was nowhere to be found in Cincinnati. Dialogue has been nicely adjusted, and Missy Matherne, featuring a deep Southern drawl, is a seamless substitute.

        The show's big dramatic moments belong to Julie Tolivar as Cassie and Juan-Carlos Diaz, who carry them off stirringly. Ms. Tolivar plays director Zach's former lover looking to re-start her career. Mr. Diaz is Paul, who pours out his devastating life in a killer monologue.

        Alas, Mr. Korbee is much too young as Zach, and doesn't contribute to the chemistry in either relationship. Kate Neubert is also too young to nail the underlying fear of aging in cynic Sheila.

        One thing about Chorus Line that several fans appear to have forgotten is that it has no intermission. There was much trotting in and out to the restrooms on opening night.

        A Chorus Line, Hot Summer Nights, University of Cincinnati, in rep through Aug. 20. (513) 556-4183.

       



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