'A Chorus Line' illustrates the joys and perils of the dancing life

The groundbreaking Broadway musical “A Chorus Line” opened on Broadway on July 25, 1975 after an extensively documented gestation period. The following year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban), Best Book of a Musical (James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante) and Best Choreography (Michael Bennett and Bob Avian).

Porchlight Music Theatre's powerful new production clearly demonstrates that those awards were well deserved and that this frequently produced musical is still fresh, entertaining and compelling nearly 45 years later.

Director Brenda Didier, Choreographer Christopher Chase Charter and Musical Director Linda Madonia have assembled a first rate young cast and effectively showcase their talents. All the players are triple threat performers who form a strong ensemble; individual characters step into the spotlight to display their unique personalities and passions.

The Ruth Page Center for the Arts is an ideal venue for this show since it allows a close up look at the athletic dancing, lively characters and compelling drama. The orchestra, ensemble and soloists sound superb and the musical balance is better than in some Chicago touring houses.

“A Chorus Line” famously celebrates Broadway dancers and Carter's choreography in several different styles is dazzling. The music is equally strong; the solo songs and complex musical sequences are sophisticated and thrillingly performed. The book is also top notch with frequent comedic moments as well as extended dramatic scenes and monologues. Didier lovingly oversees and masterfully integrates every moment of the show; her production is an artistic triumph for Porchlight.

Scenic Designer Kristen Martino provides just enough set elements to frame the dancers and their stories. Lighting Designer Denise Karczewski beautifully lights the actors and focuses the action. The lighting cues are as thoughtfully choreographed as the dances. Costume Designer Robert S. Kuhn provides a colorful array of dancewear which enables the audience to appreciate the athleticism of the dancers and offers insights into their background and characters.

The cast is uniformly strong. The first to step into the spotlight is charming, endearing Mike (Matthew Weidenbener) in “I Can Do That.” Richie (Terrell Armstrong) stands out in a showstopping moment. Comic relief is provided by funny, sarcastic, vulnerable Sheila ( Erica Evans) and surgically empowered Val (Natalie Welch) who performs “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Maggie (Aalon Smith) thrills with her soulful singing voice. Mark Anthony (Kaimana Neil) speaks about his confusing adolescence during the “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” sequence. Later in the show Paul San Marco (Alejandro Fonseca) confesses his adolescent agony in a remarkable monologue. Cassie (Laura Savage) offers a master class in the integration of song, dance and acting in “The Music and the Mirror.”

“A Chorus Line” offers personalized, high stakes drama. In a grueling audition process, 17 actors are vying for just eight parts. They are hungry, sometimes desperate, for that next job. Some yearn for fame and success. Some need to support a family. Some worry about what they will do when they can no longer dance. The gypsy life can be exciting but is also difficult. Porchlight's revival of “A Chorus Line” brilliantly illustrates the joys and perils of the dancing life and recreates all the magic of the Broadway original.

• Richard Pahl has worked as an actor and director for more than 40 years. While serving two terms on Elgin's Cultural Arts Commission, he produced its Page To Stage play reading series. Recent directing credits include “Over the River and Through the Woods” for Elgin Theater Company, "Spinning Into Butter" for Janus Theatre, and "Making God Laugh" and a staged reading of "Peggy's Birth Day" at Steel Beam Theatre. He will be appearing in “Love Letters” at the Elgin Art Showcase in May.