A Chorus Line
Presented through Sept. 8 by Boiler Room Theatre, The Factory at Franklin, 230 Franklin Rd., Franklin
For tickets, call 794-7744
Presented through Sept. 1 by Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Hwy. 100
For tickets, call 646-9977
Music is in the air on the Nashville theater scene, and there’s spirited Broadway fare currently playing at two area venues.
Franklin’s Boiler Room Theatre presents the first local staging in 10 years of the modern (1975) classic A Chorus Line. With esprit de corps, director Lewis Kempfer and his mostly attractive and energetic cast manage to pull this one off. It’s no easy task, though, and the results are by no means perfect.
Marvin Hamlisch’s music is the main creative thrust of this Pulitzer Prize-winning show about Broadway dancers looking for a break. The setup is purely manipulative, as a director (played by Kempfer) asks questions at an audition that go beyond the scope of the players’ mere show-business talent. That’s OK, though, since it’s clear that this is just a rationale for the performers to reveal the details of their personal livesand to dance and sing about it along the way. All one need do is accept the gimmick, then sit back and watch and listen.
The James Kirkwood/Nicholas Dante script has some meaningful monologues, and Edward Kleban’s lyrics are often witty. Meanwhile, Hamlisch’s solid melodies and driving rhythms offer ample opportunity for choreographer Nora Cherry to put the cast through its paces.
For the most part, the performances are fair to good. Chris Seaman turns in an acceptable if unspectacular tap-dancing routine in “I Can Do That.” Lori Eisenhauer Ellis, Kim Wyatt, and Emily Zeringue Pettet do a nice job with the poignant “At the Ballet.” The delightful number “Sing!” benefits from the comic talents (and musical timing) of Jason Laughrey and Lauri Bright. Melody Dawn Kennedy has the spotlight solo in “Nothing,” and she sings it capably and prettily.
Cherry herself accepts the daunting challenge of dancing the role of Cassie, first made famous by the irrepressible queen of ’60s and ’70s Broadway solo choreography, Donna McKechnie. While successful in re-creating McKechnie’s style, Cherry is less so in wowing us with power and range. It’s a safe performance, and as such, a little disappointing.
Things seem best in this production when the actors stick together, as in ensemble numbers like “I Hope I Get It,” “One,” and the anthemic “What I Did for Love,” which is nicely initiated and led by Kennedy.
There are some problems, however. In “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” the show’s most complex singing-cum-dancing-cum-dialogue number, it’s difficult to hear the actors’ patter over the music. Later in the play, Keely Nicole belts out “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” (a.k.a. “Tits and Ass”) with undeniable pizzazz, but the point of this number is that she’s a great dancer who can’t get cast because of her mediocre looks. Yet Nicole hardly dances at all. Also, Daniel Vincent’s lengthy monologue as Paul, the misfit Puerto Rican homosexual, seems a little dated. It doesn’t help that Vincent is not very affecting in the role.
On the other hand, the musical and vocal direction by Jamey Green is excellent, and with an assist from just a few other musicians, he makes the arrangements sound full-bodied enough.
While offering no definitive production of A Chorus Line, Boiler Room Theatre has nonetheless delivered a mostly entertaining evening of musical theater.
The general ambience couldn’t get much more sugary at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, where the family-style atmosphere runs from the folksy pre-show announcements to the “Happy Birthday” sing-alongs to the buffet-style dinner. The current production, Annie, fits right into the program. We’re happy to report that, on balance, the show’s at least as good as the barbecue.
By now, Annie is a cliché. So let’s forget about that, and address this production as if it weren’t. There must be some reasons why the 1977 Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin/Thomas Meehan show made it to Broadway, won seven Tony Awards, and is continually revived. Well, it’s got a dog in it. And a lot of little girls. But it also has some decent tunes and a handful of amusing Depression-era characters, including President Franklin Roosevelt. And it certainly has an infectious sense of hope.
Some of this is quashed by Chaffin’s insistence on two intermissions for a one-intermission show. Theatrically speaking, two intermissions are not necessary, and this artificial break in the action drags the evening out to the production’s detriment. Otherwise, David Compton’s direction is pretty darn good, considering it’s a fairly busy show that wasn’t necessarily meant to be played in the round.
There are a few things that might be tweaked to improve this Annie, but generally it works, with good performances in the key roles and strong ensemble support, including 15 young female orphans. (All the little actresses are double cast, having endured the rigors of Chaffin’s recent “Annie Camp.”)
Like all good Annies everywhere, the adorable Stephanie Rothenberg girlishly, plaintively tremolos her way through the show’s signature tune, “Tomorrow.” Though this song embodies the play’s hackneyed reputation, once everyone in the cast is singing it, it’s possible to revisit the idea that it is a toe-tapping number with some interesting harmonic changes. (Megan Lonsway is the alternate Annie, not seen at this performance.)
As for the other principals, there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. Joseph Collins is fine as Daddy Warbucks, though his transition from stern, business-obsessed billionaire to adoring adoptive father is barely noticeable. Nancy Allen, as his secretary, offers the smoothest performance of the evening, her lovely singing voice matching her grace. The comic villains are played by Jeff D. Boyet and Juli Ragsdale; they’re excellent too, and along with Chaffin’s ever-reliable dramatic doyenne Martha Wilkinsonas the hard-hearted but humorous orphanage mistress, Miss Hanniganthey strut their way successfully through the smarmy “Easy Street.” Before that happens, though, Wilkinson has already entertained mightily with the deliciously vile “Little Girls.”
Other nice noticeable things: The orphans’ vocal modulation in “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” is impressive; the musical direction and keyboard work by Julie Kutosh is solidly professional, and she is ably backed up on piano by Susan Brown and percussion by Nate Mann; and Billy Ditty handles both choreography and costumes with imagination and competence.
Things that need work: The tempo on the “Hooverville” number seemed too academicit needs a “lift”and the lyrics of the ever-popular orphan tune “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” were at times unintelligible (though the youthful players certainly aren’t lacking for volume).
In most ways, Annie is very palatable fare. Chaffin’s bread pudding with bourbon sauce is highly recommended for dessert.
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