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By Bill Hirschman
Most reputable theater critics despise when some editor adds a letter grade to their review. But watching Broward Stage Door’s admirable production of A Chorus Line kept bringing up over and over the idea of a “B” and what that means.
That’s not any kind of insult. In fact, given Stage Door’s resources, it’s a genuine compliment. C is average and Kevin Black’s edition was definitely above average. Flaws and shortcomings certainly kept it from being a Broadway-quality A or even a B+ that we’ve seen some other local companies produce.
But when the 22-member corps sang as one, when Paul delivered his monologue about his father’s affirmation, when the trio sang about life being beautiful at the ballet compared to their family life, on and on and on, the skill of these performers made those iconic moments land with the unadulterated emotional punch that audiences have come to expect since the musical bowed at The Public Theatre 40 years ago this month.
This has little to do with the ultimate irony of this production: About a week ago, leading lady Kayley Stevens, playing Cassie tore an ACL (even more ironically the shorthand abbreviation for the show among theater folks), a situation mirrored by the penultimate scene in the show itself in the lead-up to “What I Did For Love.”
Local dancer/teacher/choreographer/actress Nikki Allred Boyd was drafted by phone last Friday and courageously stepped in that night to keep the show open. At first, reportedly, she just sang and acted with a script in hand, after Black tweaked the group numbers without her. Then she learned much of the restored group choreography, but leaving out Cassie’s big “Music and the Mirror” solo. And then, when I saw the show Wednesday afternoon, she did most of the entire role for the first time. That’s a Herculean effort that deserves some kind of medal. More on her later.
The leaping choreography by Black and Chrissi Ardito intentionally mirrors much of the original by the late Michael Bennett and part-time Fort Lauderdale resident Bob Avian, which is what audiences come to see. But they include nuances such as ensuring that the dancers in the opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” display varying levels of competency in learning and executing steps that ostensibly had just been demonstrated minutes earlier.
Similarly, as a director, he has helped his cast wring out most of the humor and sentiment in the script by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, famously drawn from Bennett’s round robin taped interviews with dancers he knew. This is most notable, of course, in the moving monologue of Paul (William Thompson), the dancer whose parents discover that he was working in a drag show. Thompson ensured that throats were tightening throughout the audience.
But while these precise characterizations are now iconic and audiences are not looking for reinterpretations, Black has managed to get a bit of fresh topspin from most of the actors so their performances don’t feel like a photocopy, such as Shenise Nunez’s Morales singing “Nothing” and leading “What I Did For Love.” When Maggie sings of dancing with her father, Elizabeth Flanagan does something indefinable that snaps hearts in two.
The cast includes Ronan Bay as Mike, Idalmy Carcache as Bebe from the ballet, Darius Delk as the basketball-playing Richie, John Dempsey as Bobby, Alexandra Dow as Vicky, Danny Durr as Gregory, James Giordano as the musical husband Al, Kara Krichman as the brassy ad for plastic surgery Val, Brooke Martino as the sultry Sheila, Cara McMorrow as Judy, Hugo E. Moreno as Larry, Ashley Rubin as the hapless tone-deaf spouse Kristine, Austin Sora as the diminutive Connie, Keagan Tanner as Mark, Emily Tarallo as Lois, Michael Wallace as Frank, and Andrew Fiacco as the voice-of-God choreographer-director Zach.,
Granted, some are only passable actors and a few outliers don’t sing very well (not counting the character of Christine who isn’t supposed to be able to) which likely has composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Ed Kleban rotating in their crypts. Something else elusive keeps this production from that A list. While no one is coasting, a feeling of “once-removed” is present, echoed by the score being provided by digital tracks. (With 22 dancers, it really is too much to expect Stage Door to afford an orchestra, although the orchestrations have some disconcertingly disco guitar licks).
Back to Allred Boyd. She appeared as Vicki, one of the dancers cut early on, in the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s production in January 2014, and she had the opportunity to watch the show from the wings. But she has not played Cassie’s part before (although, another irony, she took an acting and vocal class from its originator Donna McKechnie).
So keeping that in mind, praise is due her work here. Yes, her voice was a little thin, her acting a little methodical and her dancing in the big solo a little tentative. But she clearly has the talent and craft that promises her performance will deepen as the run continues.
This is not the best or even one of the best editions of A Chorus Line that you will see, but when the distinct individuals subsume themselves into the titular single unit exuding polish and pizzazz, the overall show is not disappointing and it will likely improve over its run. It’s worth a look.
A Chorus Line plays through May 17 at the Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs. Running time 2 hours with no intermission. Tickets $38-$42; students $16. Call (954) 344-7765 or visit www.stagedoortheatre.com.