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Review: Union Colony Toes a Heavy ‘Line’

A Chorus Line may be the best-known musical about a musical, or at least the audition for a musical. Its ground-breaking format tells the stories of 17 hopeful dancers looking to be cast in the chorus of a Broadway play, and we learn more about them as the director asks them to just be themselves — unheard of at an audition! We hear how each of them started dancing, humorous recaps of coming-of-age stories, and touching, raw moments that are rarely found onstage. 

Union Colony Puts Talent On The Line

HE SAID: It’s true that this show was created by and for the very people that lived the life of chorus dancers – or “gypsies” as they are called in the biz. In fact, several moments in the show are taken straight from the lives of some of the people that originally starred in the first Broadway production. But this not just a story about dancers, or even artists. This is a story about passion, and why people put themselves through tough times just to experience the thing they love most.  That explains why runners run marathons, or mountain climbers work themselves to the bone to get to the top, and yes why dancers are willing to face rejection and grueling schedules again and again. It’s a beautiful piece, that might feel outdated at points, but really connects to universal human aspects that makes it rather timeless.

A Chorus Line, Union Colony Dinner Theatre, Denver, Theater SHE SAID: I think that the unique way this show was written is a siren call to performers. There are other shows out there about performers (Fame, Noises Off, all of the “let’s put on a show to save the theater” musicals), but this one is different. Performers are drawn to the raw storytelling, the fact that it portrays an audition, one of the most emotional times in an actor’s life, and the fact that everyone on the line gets some individual recognition. The problem with the popularity of the show is that it demands incredible talent. Almost everyone on the line should be a triple threat, not to mention the references to age and specific physical features that should be honored when casting the show. This show is difficult a beast to cast professionally, so whenever it is done using largely non-professional talent, there is a tricky balancing act of finding performers with various strengths and fitting them to the various roles. Inevitably, any evaluation of one of these non-professional productions involves commenting on how well the cast’s strengths fit the requirements of the script.

Cast of Dozens Strive to ‘Get It’

HE SAID: Fair point. Casting this show at a non-professional level is all about balance – Paul needs to be an amazing actor, Mike needs to be able to show off his dance moves, Diana needs to kill the last song, and Cassie needs to be a legitimate triple threat. But no matter how you balance your cast, inherent in the show is a desire to go beyond the talent to the real people and find out what drives them. So whether they are singing/dancing/acting there needs to be a fire.  The show opens with lines like “God I hope I get it” and “I really need this job”. For these characters, it’s life and death and, while some brought it more than others, I generally didn’t feel enough of that from the performers.

A Chorus Line, Union Colony Dinner Theatre, Denver, TheaterSHE SAID: I think I understand what you mean about not seeing the but-this-is-my-life-I-can’t-give-it-up fire in the performers. But again, I think the show actually transforms a little bit when it’s done by anyone but actual dancers on Broadway. The fire becomes about telling these stories well. You lose the original power of the show, where people are telling their own stories, but you gain the feeling that’s what these performers are striving for. And that, I felt from them. I felt every single one of them felt privileged to be able to tell the story of their character as well as they could. It might feel like cheating, because what I call the passion of striving to tell the story might actually be seen as the performers stretching and working to achieve something they’re not ready for.

Hindsley Leads Show in More Ways Than ‘One’

HE SAID: Jessica Hindsley was a stand out from the line, as Cassie is supposed to be (although I always wonder about whether having a director/choreographer/lead actress forces a compromise in any/all of those roles – but we can discuss that at another time). I find Cassie’s dance solo to be one of the most dated parts of the show – as fabulous as it is, I would love to see a modern day equivalent of how amazing that dance was in its prime. That said, Hindsley danced it as very well. I, also, really enjoyed Rachel Richards as Maggie. It’s not typically a huge memorable character out of the 17 on the line, but she really took her moments and made them really compelling – especially in “At the Ballet”.

SHE SAID: Hindsley was one of the most balanced Cassies I’ve ever seen. Usually when Cassie is singing I wish she was dancing, or vice versa, or when she’s acting I just want to close my eyes. But Hindsley had contributions to make no matter how she was expressing herself. I thought Helene Luna was very well-cast as Sheila, and she hit her character’s comedic moments as well as all the dance steps throughout the night. I also thought that Leo Batlle as Mark did a great job at authentically expressing the youthful enthusiasm of his character throughout. Some of their missed beats (the cast got off from the recorded track at several points throughout the night) and other hiccups will hopefully smooth out during the show’s long run. The show is well-costumed, very true to the revival, and it’s entertaining enough to make it through as written, without an intermission (so gobble up your desserts before it starts!).

A Chorus Line, Union Colony Dinner Theatre, Denver, Theater

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Union Colony’s Struggle for Balance Shows

THEY SAID:  As you can see from the documentary “Every Little Step”, about casting the revival production of A Chorus Line, the casting process for this show is difficult on any level – but it is particularly so in a non-professional venue. There are priorities that need to be met for the show to work, and at that level it becomes a balancing act. With a fair amount of talent on the stage, for us, the conversation about this show boiled down to how successful the balance was given what we perceive the priorities to be. Union Colony found some of the right combinations of talent in some roles, but other performances left a bit to be desired, and so the whole production doesn’t live up to its (admittedly difficult to reach) potential.

For a full plot synopsis and history of A Chorus Line, see the wikipedia article. A Chorus Line plays through September 4 at Union Colony Dinner Theatre. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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