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THEATER REVIEW - Heavy dose of dance in 'A Chorus Line'

by Chris Conley

Tonight we need dancers.

Any community theater group can round-up good actors. Good singers are usually in ample supply. Dancing is different. A simple matter of mechanics; theater skills need to be practiced. Those who are serious about their acting work on it every day. And practicing dancing skills isnt as easy as tuning your voice or rehearing your lines. This is the weakness of many local productions. Even an advanced drama program that has a house-choreographer cant get as much rehearsal time into their charges as the vocal coach or the director. You're far more likely to hear well-sung songs or well-spoken lines than well-danced numbers.

The first thing you should appreciate about Wausau Community Theaters production of A Chorus Line is that theres a lot of dancing. Everyone who has a lead role has learned a tremendous amount of choreography just to make it on-stage. This is a much taller order. The degree of difficulty is high. Your friends and neighbors have put in many hours just to get the basics down. Choreographer Deb Clark has the weight of a dozen ballet shoes on her shoulders -- the show that cant take flight without good dancing.

Im pleased to tell you that many very good dancers have indeed stepped forward.

Scott Atkinson has been a featured dancer in several community theater productions. Hes one of the best male-dancers in town; tonight he gets to show off his very-good tap dancing skills. Penny Mackedon has the challenge of having to dance as if shes holding something back -- her character is down-and-out and is too good to be a chorus-girl. Shes a fabulous singer and dancer and distinguishes herself yet again in a talented cast. (She was a show-stopper in last year's 'Smokey Joe's Cafe'.) Becca Wittek did, in fact, have me thinking that she was trying to be a bobsled, a table, and an ice cream cone, as she sang about failing her acting-improv class. Abby Lee and Addy Wermund are good dancers who make the most of their limited time in the spotlight.

A special note of praise for Danny Koplitz, a high school sophomore making his WCT debut. He made me uncomfortable exactly like he was supposed to. If he misses the mark, then director/producer Nick Soto is never humanized and appears as an overbearing jerk on an impossible power-trip. Its one of the few non-dance scenes of the evening and it was perfectly acted.

Yet theres something sad about A Chorus Line. It's a legendary Broadway production because of its longevity. Before Andrew Lloyd Webers felines and phantoms landed on Broadway, this was the all-time champ. It ran for 6,137 performances starting in 1975, and audiences ate it up because it was a behind the scenes look at the casting process and celebrated the faceless talents that are the soul of the theater. If the public had never seen this before, we see too much of it now. Between American Idol, X-Factor, The Voice, and even an ill-conceived televised-casting for a production of Grease, we know too much about critiquing performers and those certain-somethings that put one ahead of another. In A Chorus Line we never develop a cheering interest for the characters wed like to see make the final cut. Part of the point is that theyre all good; the difference between making it and not is small. But the play is no match for Dancing With The Stars and texting in our votes.

35 years later A Chorus Line feels like a museum-piece of Broadway history. But some museums preserve their exhibits with loving care and present them expertly. This production is like that.

Chris Conley
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau

There are additional performances of A Chorus Line at the Grand Theater in Wausau on Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.

By MachoCarioca (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons