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A chorus of cheers

by and


‘A Chorus Line’

Arkansas Repertory Theatre

June 2

“A Chorus Line” ruled Broadway for 15 years, winning nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. This year marks its 30th anniversary, just as this is the 30th anniversary of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, making it a symbolic and appropriate choice for the last Rep show of the season. While there were flaws here and there opening night, I suggest you rush and buy your tickets now.

Rep founder and the director of this production, Cliff Fannin Baker, suffered a heart attack just days before opening night and, while word is that his prognosis is good, it’s a wonderful chance to pay tribute to what Baker’s given to the community.

The production, a look into the world of an audition for a place in a Broadway chorus line, has stayed true to the 1970s dialogue and costumes, yet the play doesn’t seem dated a bit. Perhaps the only topical matter lacking that would, no doubt, affect this group of characters would be AIDS.

Rather than have this multi-talented group of hopefuls simply sing and dance for him, the director, Zac (Bob Gaynor), asks them to talk. Just talk. About themselves.

Some common themes emerge and make for particularly moving pieces, such as the escape from miserable home lives that ballet class provided, talked and sung about by Sheila, Bebe and Maggie (Hollie Howard, Kolina Janneck and Deborah Leamy).

Kathryn Mowat Murphy, a Bernadette Peters look-alike who plays the lead of Cassie, makes the play worth seeing all on her own. While the love story of an aging chorus dancer who is now auditioning for her former lover, Zac, is dull in moments, her dancing is so refined and gorgeous that she should not be missed. She is, simply, stunning.

Christina LaDuca, however, comes close to stealing the show as Diana with the famous numbers “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love.” Seeming a bit worn by the end of the show when “What I Did for Love” arrives, LaDuca’s ensemble holds her up, and I have no doubt that as the production progresses, she will only strengthen.

Stephen Baker, as Mark, is the best male dancer in the line, though he has few speaking parts. Little Rock-local Dennis Glasscock, is, as always, dependable and talented as Larry, the Dance Captain. Joi Chen as Connie is worth noting for the fun she’s having and for the fact that she’s a student at Hendrix College.

Having as much fun as Chen is Colleen Hawks as Val, who sings the well-known and bawdy “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three”; she is a knockout and surely knows how to bring fun and life to a sagging body in a show that doesn’t sag at all.

We overheard another playgoer suggest that Hollie Howard might have been miscast as Sheila, a cigarette-smoking and Valium-popping, sarcastic woman unafraid to express her anger. One suspects that Howard’s true nature is much too sweet to be convincing as this angry person. However, she’s perfectly on the mark.

The choreography is top-notch, particularly in the opening, the montages and finale. The lighting is perfect, bringing the characters together and isolating them at the right moment while staying rather subtle. The set is the classic “Chorus Line” set — a bare stage backed with mirrors. Producer Robert Hupp and Cliff Baker deserve a standing ovation for bringing this one to the Rep on the cusp of its Broadway revival, especially Baker for the direction.

The play, which runs through July 2, runs a little more than two hours and has no intermission. Shows are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, and 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with 2 p.m. Saturday matinees through June.

— Joy Ritchey

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