Theater Review: Timber Lake opens 52nd season with ‘A Chorus Line’

By Bill Beard
Theater Critic

I’ve seen A Chorus Line probably 10 times since it opened on Broadway in 1975. I’ve reviewed it on four previous occasions, once even a high school production (which, by the way, was excellent!).

I’ve always felt it was a completely different type of show; one based on the lives of real people, struggling dancers trying just to get a chance to be on “the line,” the dance chorus of a Broadway musical.

It was conceived and created by the brilliant dancer-choreographer-director Michael Bennett. He based it directly on real-life interviews conducted with dancers struggling for a chance to “live their dream,” to be a successful “gypsy” chorus dancer in a Broadway show. Their honest personal stories cover the full spectrum of a performer’s life experiences, from hilarious to devastating, from mundane to bizarre. But they also ring true, believable and real.

There are wonderful songs by the late, great Marvin Hamlisch, again ranging from upbeat comedy to poignant ballads; and with big chorus numbers with gorgeous harmonies and, of course, great dancing. But the foundation of the whole production lies in the fundamental honesty of the individual personal stories.

The artistic director of Timber Lake Playhouse, James Beaudry, has once again put together a talented company for Guest Director Will Taylor to work with. (Taylor directed last year’s Guys and Dolls.) And the superb quality of the cast is immediately evident in the exciting opening number, “I Hope I Get It!”, with the entire cast being drilled in an exciting and demanding dance routine for the upcoming audition. It is obvious that this cast has been carefully chosen.

Then, the story begins. The “Director,” Zack, who is heard speaking primarily from the rear of the theater, explains that part of the audition will be just to talk about themselves, simply and honestly, no gimmicks, no stand-up routines. The show he is putting together will include some acting, but he wants to get to know them by just having them share something about their lives.

The first one called on is Mike, who tells of learning to dance at age 8, when he took over his sister’s place in a dance class. Mike is played by Joe Capstick, and his number, “I Can Do That!”, is the early highlight of the evening. He not only sings well, his dancing sets a standard for the rest of the show. Terrific start!

And that is followed by a beautiful trio, “At The Ballet,” which features the gorgeous Lexie Plath as the jaded Sheila, Danielle Davila as Bebe and Erica Stephan as Maggie. Ms. Stephan, by the way, is one of the most natural talents on stage, strong but subtle, one of those performers who never draws focus, but to whom one’s gaze always returns. “At The Ballet” develops into an impressive full-company number, with some lovely ballet and marvelous ensemble harmonies.

Other notable numbers include the mildly exhibitionistic “Dance: 10; Looks: 3” (sometimes referred to as “T and A!”). significantly displayed by the stunning Genna-Paige Kanago, from Florida by way of Baldwin Wallace University; and the wonderfully arousing company number, “Goodbye Twelve,” with some great moves by Gilbert Domally as Richie.

Two highlight numbers in the show, assigned to the character of Diana (here played by Tayloir Pace, from Flower Mound, Texas) are “Nothing,” usually a sort of showstopper story-song, and the beautiful soul-searching “What I Did For Love,” which grows into the impressive ensemble finale. Ms. Pace handled both rather well, but never quite reached their full potential.

The cast includes two Equity professionals, Kaolin Bass from New York, who plays Zack, and Pilar Millhollen from Chicago, who plays Cassie, the role originally played by the fabulous Donna McKecknie. I saw Ms. Millhollen in the Marriott Theatre’s production of A Chorus Line, in the role of Diana, and in checking back to my review of that show, I found that I raved about her then. I will do so again now. Cassie is a former “featured” dancer on Broadway who went to L.A. to try for the Big Time, and who failed and now realizes she doesn’t need the star status. She simply loves to dance and is perfectly willing to be just one of the “gypsies on the line.” Ms. Millhollen is right on target. She plays the whole first act in a subtle, understated style; but at the beginning of Act II, she turns on the power and makes the fabulous “The Music and The Mirror” number into the absolutely powerful showstopper it is meant to be. She owns the song, the role and the whole darned stage! Bravo.

Unfortunately, her partner is not as successful. Vocally, he delivers the lines from the rear of the audience perfectly appropriately; sounds good. But when he takes stage for a couple of important individual scenes (one in the touching confessional scene with Paul, played skillfully by Tim Wessel with a believable poignant honesty), Mr. Bass does not appear like the commanding Broadway director we’ve been listening to; he comes across more like the tech director or lighting designer.

Kudos also to Musical Director Kyle Branzel and to Assistant Choreographer Geena Quintos (who also plays the role of Connie Wong, and comes directly from New York).

Now … if you happen never to have seen a production of A Chorus Line, please don’t miss this chance. Timber Lake Playhouse is a gem. Hidden deep in the woods of Illinois, perfect for a “summer evening of theater,” it’s an easy drive to Mt. Carroll, and the theater is pleasant, air conditioned, inexpensive and there’s not a bad seat in the house. You’ll enjoy this show.

Call for information: (815) 244-2035.

From the June 12-18, 2013, issue

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