"A Chorus Line" is the quintessential New York show, a musical apotheosis of the humble Broadway hoofer. It takes an insider's knowing, sentimental, bittersweet look at the lifeblood of the Broadway theater as no other has before or since.
You can point out its flaws or carp about its cliches. You can roll your eyes at its awkward dramaturgy and wonder how it won a Pulitzer. But you cannot deny its emotional power, savvy humor, catchy score, sexy choreography and certainly not its authenticity.
Some of the appeal is evident in Long Beach Civic Light Opera's middling-to-slick production, which opened Saturday at the Terrace Theatre. Several standouts in the large ensemble give fine performances, and the company stops the show with a dazzling "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love."
Christina Saffran's perky, cynical Val is as breezy and polished as you'll see on any stage. Her comic showstopper, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three," doesn't come any better. Ditto for Andre Garner, whose Richie has pizazz to spare.
This production, billed as a 20th anniversary tribute to the original, is directed by Troy Garza, who was the Broadway company's dance captain for 13 years. But it is a bit of a letdown in the key roles of Cassie (Leslie Woodies), Paul (Vincent Zamora) and Diana (Peggy Hickey).
If "A Chorus Line" is to live up to its possibilities, Cassie has to dance with visceral impact in "The Music and the Mirror," an edgy, breathtaking star-turn designed to show off the talent that once propelled her beyond the chorus. Similarly, Paul must deliver a monologue about his wrenching teen-age experience in a transvestite revue with the profound sense of torment that it deserves. And Diana has to probe the anguish beneath the high jinks of "Nothing," her song about surviving an acting class in high school.
But Woodies lacks the snap and verve as a dancer to bring down the house in Cassie's climactic solo. Zamora doesn't wound you with Paul's humiliation and pain. Hickey, upbeat to a fault as Diana, misses the sadness at her core.
Incidentally, from where I sat, fourth row left of center, I found it difficult to tell where any particular voice was coming from until I could spot a pair of moving lips. The disembodying effect of the sound system also left me uncertain about the orchestra. If there was live music coming from the pit, I couldn't tell.
The show's classic signature piece lives up to expectations, however. It is a crowd-pleasing finale that brims with high-kicking Broadway glamour, stylish precision and glittering gold costumes.
* "A Chorus Line," Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; also March 18, 7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday matinees, 2 p.m. Ends March 19. $15-$42. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (no intermission).
A Long Beach Civic Light Opera production of a musical conceived, originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, and co-choreographed by Bob Avian. Producer: Barry Brown. Original direction and choreography re-created by Troy Garza. Musical direction: Dennis Castellano. Associate producer: Don Hill. Associate director/choreographer: David Thome. Costume design: Garland Riddle. Scenic consultant: Robert L. Smith. Original lighting design: Tharon Musser.. Lighting director: Tad Yenawine. Sound design: Paul Fabre. Makeup /hair design: Elena Breckenridge. Property design: Deborah J. Dennis. Technical director: Bill Yates. Stage manager: Nancy Ann Adler.