This past weekend in Los Angeles, everything was beautiful at the ballet indeed as The Hollywood Bowl presented their annual, fully-staged summer musical, A Chorus Line. This was my fifth time attending, having seen their productions of Hairspray, The Producers, Chicago, and Hair in the past. I was a bit apprehensive going in because A Chorus Line is inarguably one of my favorite musicals of all time, and I have always found the Bowl’s renditions to be uneven at best. They are typically aggressively stunt cast, awkwardly simplified, and even occasionally shortened to suit the unique constraints of the venue. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when this was easily the best production they have pulled off yet, resulting in an extremely enjoyable evening.
For anyone who is unfamiliar, A Chorus Line, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr.and Nicholas Dante, first debuted on Broadway in 1975. The original production remains the sixth longest running Broadway show ever, and inspired a movie adaptation in 1985. The conceit is simple—on a bare stage, various dancers audition for parts in the ensemble of a musical, revealing the events in their lives that inspired them to become dancers along the way. It won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was revived on Broadway in 2006.
The Hollywood Bowl production featured many performers from the 2006 revival. In fact, the majority of the cast had done the show before, which was likely an intentional choice due to the intricate choreography and condensed Bowl rehearsal process. It was also directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee, who originated the role of Connie and choreographed the revival. The clean, simple staging and show-stopping, iconic choreography and dancing translated to even the metaphorical rafters of the gigantic venue. Most importantly, the heart and genuine, human emotion that make the show feel as special and timeless as it must have in 1975 truly shone throughout.
Leading the proceedings as director Zach was Mario Lopez, who previously played the role in the Broadway revival. While Zach’s role is traditionally as mostly a disembodied voice, commanding the dancers’ attention from offstage, Lopez’s star power led to him being incorporated much more into the action. Sarah Bowden was simply fantastic as Cassie, Zach’s ex and a previously successful solo dancer who is now desperate for even a chorus job. Every time I see this show, I am stunned by what a beast of a song “The Music and the Mirror” is—it’s the closest thing to a marathon that exists in a musical, requiring the actress to perform intricate, lengthy dance sequences, immediately followed by belting high notes. Bowden played Cassie before on the West End, and it showed in her mastery of the role.
Krysta Rodriguez, recently Ilse in the stunning Deaf West Spring Awakening revival, played Bebe in the 2006 revival and was promoted to Diana here. I have rarely seen her more comfortable in a role, and she was in excellent voice on “What I Did For Love,” one of the show’s best-known songs. The weakest link in the cast was Sabrina Bryan, of The Cheetah Girls and Dancing With the Stars fame. Luckily, Val isn’t a particularly demanding role, and what she lacked in vocals she made up for in spunk during her big number, “Dance: 10, Looks: 3.” I was particularly delighted to see Mara Davi reprise the role of Maggie that she played in the most recent Broadway revival. While it may not be the biggest or most memorable role, I can not begin to tell you how many times I have listened to her beautifully sing “At the Ballet” on that cast recording, and to hear her perform it here just as brilliantly was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Rounding out the large cast of 31 were Robert Fairchild as Mike, Spencer Liff as Larry, Courtney Lopez as Kristine, J. Elaine Marcos as Connie, Jason Tam as Paul, and Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila.
Now, the Hollywood Bowl will never be the ideal venue for a serious musical. It seats 17,500 people, and from my seat in the highest section, you could often hear rather distracting music from another nearby event. It is, however, an iconic Los Angeles venue and a great choice for a fun night out. I was slightly concerned about the choice to perform a musical without an intermission in such a casual setting, but the show is so seamless that no one seemed to mind. The ending, wherein all of the characters we have spent the last two hours getting to know as individuals emerge in identical, sparkly gold costumes, once again anonymous pieces of a larger whole, was electrifying.
For me, I was reminded of why this show is such a tentpole of musical theater. A Chorus Line is the total package of musicals, combining gorgeous, memorable songs with compelling characters you instantly care about and incredibly theatrical dance numbers. It captures the true spirit and anguish of not only the process of auditioning as an actor, but of struggling to accomplish any goal in life—whether you want to be a dancer, a writer, a doctor, or basically anything else, there is something for you to connect to. Even after all these years, A Chorus Line is still the one.