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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Theatre review: A Chorus Line is challenging

Fighting Chance Productions presentation only intermittently rises to this musical's challenges

A Chorus Line is a tough musical to pull off. The Fighting Chance Productions presentation, currently on stage at Granville Island’s Waterfront Theatre, only intermittently rises to its challenges.

Written in 1975 and based on real-life interviews with dancers, A Chorus Line tells the story of a group of artists competing for eight spots as part of a Broadway chorus. Along with auditioning their dance and vocal skills, fictional director Zach asks each of them to tell very personal stories about their lives, and why they chose to be dancers.

What makes A Chorus Line so difficult is not only must we believe these are professional dancers looking for one more job before it is too late for them to dance anymore, we must also believe the personal stories they tell. They must also be triple threats; able to dance, sing, and act.

This production, consisting almost entirely of amateur and pre-professional actors, doesn’t always rise above those challenges. And while one may choose to view A Chorus Line in a non-professional production beyond its original authorial intent, it does lose something in translation.

Community theatre is vastly different from Broadway. The biggest difference is not just in the ability of its actors, as some of this cast are very good, but there is a real-world desperation that is missing. Ironically, it is not difficult to imagine the pressures of auditioning for a professional production of A Chorus Line, compared to one at the non-professional level.

This doesn’t mean a non-professional production cannot be successful with this show. For it to work effectively though requires a cast consistently up to its requirements. Not everyone on the Waterfront stage is. The result is an unevenness, where the not so successful moments are that much starker against those when this production sizzles.

While each of this cast are singular sensations, or proficient in one or two of the required disciplines, the true triple threat here remains largely elusive.

There are several standouts though who are closest to the real-deal, including Vanessa Quartino, Greg Liow, and Alisha Suitor.

Quartino is particularly good here as Puerto Rican dancer, Diana Morales. A wonderful voice, Quartino nails both the comedy and heartbreak in “Nothing”. She also leads the cast in a gorgeous rendition of “What I Did For Love”.

While Quartino may be most memorable, Liow is one of the better dancers on stage, and Suitor excels on the acting side of the triple threat equation as the sassy Sheila.

As the only professional on stage, Christopher King goes for a lighter, more nurturing version of the fictional director Zach. Unseen during much of the show, King’s disembodied voice must coax the personal stories from his would-be cast. With his modulated delivery, King’s emotionally charged scenes with his ex-girlfriend Cassie and during Paul’s dramatic revelations lack the necessary variety and vitality.

As with many non-professional musical productions, where individual performances may not always be consistent, when the ensemble comes together the result is simply magical.  This production is no different. Even while some of the montage work does get a little messy at times, there are some wonderful harmonies when this cast unites.

Also of note is the diversity director Rachel Carlson has assembled, and not just with colour. Expanding somewhat on the few roles requiring a specific ethnicity, it was also a pleasant surprise to see such a range of body types being cast in the role of dancers.

A story about dancers, choreography is key. Another mixed bag, director and choreographer Rachael Carlson was no doubt driven by a need to ensure those with lesser dance skills can keep up with what is supposed to be this show’s driving force. It once again highlighted the inconsistencies in abilities.

Carlson may have taken on too much here, as she is also the costume designer. While the clothing worn by the auditioning dancers is varied and interesting, the show’s glitzy finale is a disappointment. While the women’s costumes fare better, the ill-fitting men’s suits were almost clownish.

Musical director Arielle Balance leads her unseen five-piece band with nice results, with a sound belying its small size.

While this production may be uneven, it does make up for it in the enthusiasm this cast has for the material. But like the countless artists looking to get their break on Broadway and professional stages all over the world, enthusiasm is rarely enough.

A Chorus Line conceived by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood Jr., and Nicholas Dante. A Fighting Chance Productions presentation on stage at the Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) until September 2. Visit for tickets and information.

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