THE PRODUCTION of A Chorus Line that opened last Thursday is as good as locally produced musical theater gets in Portland. For the Broadway Rose Theatre Company, which for 18 years has intrepidly mounted musicals in Tigard, that's a huge achievement−but unfortunately, it's not enough. Portland is simply not a song-and-dance town and the evening feels like a regional theater callback, not the final audition for an important new Broadway musical.
A Chorus Line began in 1974, with several late-night taped sessions in which Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," talked candidly about their dreams, fears, and the difficulties of living a peripatetic life. Choreographer Michael Bennett took these tapes and shaped them into a Pulitzer-Prize winning saga of the underappreciated and overlooked.
That these themes shine through is a testament to the power of the source material and director Keith Cromwell, who mines the drama. Perhaps it's unfair to ask predominantly local talent to recreate personal stories of such raw intensity. Fortunately, some, including Nicky Romaniello as Paul and Lindsay Michelet as Cassie, rise to the challenge. But even such superior actors are unable to effectively deliver Bennett's demanding choreography, meticulously recreated by Amy Beth Frankel.
We are supposed to be eavesdropping on seasoned professionals at the height of their brief careers, yet I rarely believed cast members were who they said they were. Some are doughy and out of shape while others are too long in the tooth to be playing gypsies. Only a few have strong, penetrating voices (in particular, Lea Kohl as Val, who belts the showstopper "Dance: 10; Looks: 3," popularly known as "Tits and Ass").
The nine-piece orchestra led by Tracey Edson hindered those who were able to plumb the depths of the material. Out of tune and out of balance, the horns, in particular, overpowered. Costumes by Allison Dawe updated the original designs for today's relaxed fit world, but as a result, they felt anachronistic.
Written over 30 years ago, A Chorus Line still packs an emotional wallop. One experiences a touch of its impact in Tigard, but the exacting requirements of the show unfortunately outstrip this valiant company's resources.