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'A Chorus Line' still breaking ground

Dancers perform during opening night of A Chorus Line at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

Dancers perform during opening night of A Chorus Line at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.

TAMPA — No sets, no costumes, no stars — just the chorus line. And it ran for 15 years on Broadway.

Now there's an entertaining revival of A Chorus Line, a virtual carbon copy of director-choreographer Michael Bennett's original staging from 1975, and it still packs quite a punch, though perhaps in a different sort of way. This time around, with the country in the middle of a deep recession, the story of 18 dancers auditioning for a chorus of eight in an unnamed musical speaks to everyone worried about a job, not just the stagestruck and those with little-town blues.

"I really need this job. Please, God, I need this job" are among the first words in the show, right after the brilliant opening, the insistent repetition of dance steps, counted out by Zach, the all-powerful director-choreographer who seemed a bit kinder and gentler portrayed by Sebastian La Cause Tuesday night.

There are some fine, fresh performances of old favorites in the revival, especially Gabrielle Ruiz as Diana, the Puerto Rican from the Bronx, in Nothing and even What I Did for Love, the show's most popular but worst song. Val, the perky blond played by Mindy Dougherty, brought down the house with Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.

As Cassie, the onetime featured dancer who had a relationship with Zach, Erica Mansfield struggled with The Music and the Mirror, not finding the balance between singing, dancing and dramatic acting that the star number demands. There was a generic quality to her characterization and some others that kept the show from really grabbing the audience.

In its day, A Chorus Line broke new ground by being the first Broadway musical to deal with homosexuality in a matter-of-fact way. The monologue by Paul (Kevin Santos) about growing up gay and getting his start in show business as a drag queen remains a wrenching tour de force. You could think of this revival as a companion piece to another current homage to gay liberation in the 1970s, the evocation of San Francisco's Castro neighborhood and Sean Penn's amazing performance in the movie Milk.

However, there is a haunting undertone to the musical's big finale, One. When all those dancers come out in spangled gold costumes to form a flashy kick line, it's a glorious theatrical moment, but it's also a melancholy reminder of the loss of its creators, Bennett and book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. They all died of AIDS, which devastated the Broadway dance community.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

Fast Facts

'A Chorus Line'

The show has seven performances through Sunday at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Running time: two hours, with no intermission. $38.50-$67.50. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; tbpac.org.

'A Chorus Line' still breaking ground 02/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 11:27pm]

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