Review: Multiple singular sensations in MET’s ‘Chorus Line’

Jennifer Haaland | | May 27, 2015

Mesa Encore Theatre (MET) is closing out their musical theatre season at Mesa Arts Center with “A Chorus Line,” the Marvin Hamlisch blockbuster that held the title for Longest Running Broadway Musical for over 20 years (1975-97…until record-breaker “Cats” came along). The local cast opened strong Friday night, embodying the show’s theme that regardless of how polished and homogenous a stellar dance corps appears, it is without fail comprised of individuals greater than the resulting cookie cutter sum line.

The thing about “A Chorus Line” is it led the brigade at the dawn of true ensemble productions in musical theatre 40 years ago. That is, rather than a star or two carrying the plot and a majority of the numbers in the show, almost all cast member get a chance to shine and contribute a big chunk of the action.

The ensemble idea served MET’s cast well. Each actor’s individual strengths surfaced as the show opened with “I Hope I Get It,” designed to introduce that the story revolves around a cast of characters who are auditioning for roles as dancing chorus members in a Broadway show. By the end of the number, the varied crew had demonstrated a critical show piece: the choral sound and blend was rock solid. They blew the roof off in “Sing,” too. Kudos to Director Peter J. Hill, Musical Director Debra Jo Davey, and the supporting pit singers.

This ensemble show also trumpets the crucial breadth and depth necessary to play a ‘mere’ chorus role. Though the storyline portrays a dance audition, standout voices were apparent early on. Alan Khoutakoun’s voice as Paul stole hearts with his first solo line in the first number, and when Kim Cooper-Schmidt as Maggie joined the “At the Ballet” trio, the beautiful strength of her voice was impossible to ignore. Corey Gimlin’s (Al’s) full range was also notable, particularly as a cute contrast to Al’s tone deaf wife Kristine in “Sing.”

Of course, in a dance show, the cast better be able to dance. MET’s ensemble had feet flying in beautiful synchronicity for a good share of Friday’s performance. Again, as individuals, several dancers were particularly bright. “Chorus Line’s” Cassie needs to have a unique flare and unrivaled grace onstage, and Audrey Sullivan did. Her dancing in “The Music and the Mirror” was excellent. Alan Khoutakoun (Paul) was perhaps even more notable in the dance numbers than he was as a vocalist in the first number, which was pretty extraordinary.

Finally, the acting in MET’s production had some particularly fine moments. A half dozen or more life stories were woven beautifully into one another as each actor provided an anecdotal snapshot of what kind of life they’d led.

In particular, Megan Rose as Diana created a wonderful empathy in “Nothing.” The lovely irony in Cassie’s monologue about her being the “girl who can’t act” is that it took some healthy chops on actress Sullivan’s part to pull it off. Cassie’s complex, impassioned interaction with director Zach (Jean-Paoul Clemente) was moving as well.

Finally, at the risk of having that broken record sound, Khoutakoun’s monologue about Paul’s covert background as a cross-dressing dancer and his strained family relations was chilling. Audience members felt like uncomfortable eavesdroppers on a conversation so personal that a timidly self-conscious Paul could hardly share it with the director, much less a bunch of gawkers.

“A Chorus Line” is a show that gets under the skin and deep into the lives of auditioners in the theatre world. Done right, like MET’s current production, it emphasizes the multiple singular sensations necessary to become “One.”

Saw it: Friday, May 22, 2015
Runs through: June 7, 2015 – Tickets $26-$29
Mesa Arts Center, One East Main Street, Mesa, AZ 85201, (480) 644.6500

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