Compass Rose Theater’s production of A Chorus Line is an entertaining spectacle that also leaves audiences thinking. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, the 1975 musical is the sixth-longest running Broadway show ever. This production, directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne in a hotel reception hall, features wonderful acting, singing, and remarkable dancing, a fine show to end Compass Rose Theater’s current season.
Sam Midwood plays Zach, the casting director, with a firm strength. Hard and demanding, he puts the dancers auditioning for the chorus through their paces. He also allows them to open up and reveal themselves to the audience, asking questions while sitting on a stool just offstage. During an emotionally vulnerable conversation with Paul (Daren Liff), he gets up and gently holds Liff. It’s a tender moment.
Midwood gives his most powerful performances with Holly Wilder, who plays Cassie. Their conversation at the end of Act I is gripping. Wilder giving a desperation to Cassie and there is a slight bitterness to her at the way her career has played out, but her need to dance shines through. In “The Music and The Mirror” she is incredibly heartfelt, and her solo dance at the end is captivating to watch, as she dominates the stage in various styles. During “One” Midwood grabs Wilder off the stage and they have another dramatic conversation as the dancers continue the number.
Daren Liff brings a powerful vulnerability to Paul. Initially defiant at being asked such personal questions, he later reveals the struggle he went through over his sexuality. Describing his work at a drag nightclub, he lifts his legs, showing off their strength and beauty. Later, as he is carried offstage from an injury, the despair and frustration evident on his face in a heartrending moment.
Jana Bernard plays Val with a joyful sassiness. In “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” she gleefully sings of her plastic surgery, prancing around the stage. At one point, she asks the audience “You’re probably all looking at my tits, aren’t you?” It is a fun number.
Jorge Echeverria plays Mark with an eagerness to please. In “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” he sings of his hilarious education with an anatomy textbook. He knocks over a stool in his excitement, then sits on it as if at confession.
Melissa Perry plays Diana with an intense determination. In “Nothing” she sings of her misadventures in an improv class, where she struggled to show emotion. She joyfully proclaims her intention to be a star. In “What I Did for Love” she passionately defends the dancing life; for her, the sacrifices are worth it.
Angie Colonna-Terrell gives Kristine great humor, especially in “Sing!” hilariously singing off-key. She gets an assist from Justin Geiss as Bobby, who provides clever vocal tricks. Geiss gives a colorful flamboyance to Bobby. In “And” he speaks of his childhood, describing ever more bizarre antics.
Hollis Williams plays Sheila with a hard attitude. She comes on strong to Midwood at first, who tells her to “stop performing.” She reveals her vulnerable side in “At the Ballet,” singing with longing at the beauty of the ballet, an escape from her dysfunctional home-life.
Tyler Donovan gives Mike a tough-guy edge. The first to be interviewed, he asks that they start at the other end. In “I Can Do That” he sings joyfully of his first-time dancing, doing a tap routine.
Renee Vergauwen does a great job as Costume Designer, creating simple yet effective outfits. Zach wears a purple button-down shirt with black jeans. The rest of the cast are in rehearsal clothing, many wearing spandex. Val has a pink leotard, and Diana has a purple one with blue streaks. Paul wears a tight white t-shirt and black leggings, Mike wears a grey t-shirt with black suspenders and red pants, while Sheila has on black shorts and a green bikini top. Cassie wears a red leotard with a flowing half-skirt. Robbie stands out in a multi-colored t-shirt, black leggings, and rainbow socks. For the final number, they all pop in shiny gold jackets, gold pants for the men and shorts for the women, and gold top hats.
The lighting, ably assisted by Marianne Meadows, helps set the musical’s mood, with footlights highlighting the amazing dancing. After Cassie’s dramatic solo dance in “The Music and the Mirror,” the light shines a dark red before fading to black.
Sangah Purinton does an incredible job as music director and accompanist. She produces such a rich sound from the piano off to the right of the stage, it is hard to believe all the music for the show comes from that one instrument. The music reaches every audience member, and blends perfectly with the singing.
Choreographer Liz Tenuto does wonderful work, creating remarkably precise and physical dance numbers. The cast dance in all styles, from ballet to tap, with lifts and kicks done seemingly effortlessly. The formation dances are incredibly beautiful to watch, each actor working seamlessly with the rest. “One” is especially captivating, mixing dancing and singing with an emotionally charged conversation.
Lucinda Merry-Browne has done an excellent job as director. The actors navigate the stage and each other easily and gracefully. Full of energy and passion, they hit the right emotional notes for each song, from the clever musical humor in “Sing!” to the joyousness of “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” and the powerfully heartfelt “What I Did for Love.” In their acting as well, they give the right combination of humor, determination, and vulnerability. Everything blends to make a night of entertaining, yet thought-provoking, musical theater. Be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.
A Chorus Line plays through May 20, 2018, at the Power House building at the Loews Hotel – 126 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-980-6662, or purchase them online.