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When it comes to musicals, Geva can do that


Artistic director Mark Cuddy switched Geva's final show of the season to A Chorus Line before the professional performing rights get tied up for the 2006 Broadway revival. One of four nominees for a national poll on the best American musical ever, A Chorus Line next year might start on Broadway for another 15-year run.

          It's no sure-fire wind-up toy, though. Basic to A Chorus Line's thrilling success in the theater is seeing gifted dancers performing live with amazing energy, dancing well enough to be cast in any topnotch Broadway show. Despite the scary high-school versions, it's an NFA show (Not For Amateurs); and one reason for the expensive flop film's awfulness is that it doesn't present dancers truly "cutting it" right in front of you.

          Fortunately Geva's revival really cuts it. For his audition number, Mike tells about watching his sister's dance class and thinking, "I Can Do That." Mike's effervescent song and dazzling dance was originally created by Brockport graduate Wayne Cilento. Young Broadway, TV, and video pro Tyce Diorio is first-rate as Mike. But his show-stopping "I Can Do That" could be the cast's emblem. They all have to act and sing too.

          A Chorus Line is built like a dance, evolving from a realistic audition where several good-looking dancers are cut out early. The rest of the dancers, between dance routines, tell about themselves to Zach, the all-powerful director who will eventually choose eight from the remaining 18.

          Cuddy handles the considerable drama involved to good emotional effect. He is immeasurably aided by choreographer Danny Herman, a former cast member and a protégé of Michael Bennett, the primary creator of A Chorus Line. Herman's choreography maintains the style and effect of Bennett's, and he fine-tunes his dancers not only to perform with technical panache but also to reveal individual nuances within the precise unison dances.

          Don Kott's musical direction of Marvin Hamlische's score is entirely winning, but the chorus needed more strength --- maybe just a matter of adjusting sound levels. Certainly, Ellyn Marie Marsh sings the biting "Nothing" and leads "What I Did For Love" with solid vocal authority. Leslie Stevens is appropriately brassy and sexy as Sheila, but has winsome charm singing "At the Ballet."

          Carlos Lopez is charismatic enough as Al to enhance Robin Campbell's "Can't Sing" performance as Al's wife Christine; but Campbell's adopting a Minnie-Mouse squeaky voice in that number is too grating. Nicolette Hart could be sharper in "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three," Val's complaint about skewed values in casting, but in "Tits and Ass," Val's exuberant follow-up after her physical enhancement, Hart is a delight.

          E. Clayton Cornelious, a showy acrobatic dancer with a big voice, is impressive in the smaller role of Richie. One look at either Rocker Verastique's body or his movement as director Zach's assistant-demonstrator should let you know he's a knockout dancer. Yuka Takara is adorable as little Connie, but she looks awfully young: her program bio claims she was in "the original Broadway cast of Flower Drum Song," which was 47 years ago. In dramatic moments, big, muscular Luke Longacre is hilarious as Mark, who misread a medical book at 13 to diagnose his wet dream as gonorrhea. Kevin Crewell brings dry subtlety to Greg's comic confession.

          Miguel A. Romero is unusually understated as Paul, the unhappy homosexual, so that his breaking into sobs when he tells of his love for his parents and humiliation before them is heartbreaking. That moment is emotionally strengthened by Remi Sandri's Zach. Mostly an unseen miked voice from the darkened house, Zach runs onstage to hold the crying boy and comfort him. Sandri's Zach is more complex than most: self-involved and unintentionally cruel, but also intensely professional and surprisingly humane. I've written admiringly about many Geva performances by Sandri, but who knew that he could dance?

          We knew Broadway star Crista Moore can. Her continued visits to Geva seem a flattering affirmation of working here with Cuddy. Her Cassie was Zach's lover when he took her out of the chorus, and now she just wants a job in the line. A lyrical dancer and beautiful singer, Moore seems exactly what Zach says Cassie is: "too good for the chorus."

          They're all very good. With its final, costumed kick-chorus, A Chorus Line is basically a satisfying homage to the Broadway dancer. But it is also a harrowingly honest, saddening, and ultimately inspiring account of the harsh sacrifices these driven artists make just to stand onstage and perform.

You should go if you want to see A Chorus Line done the way it needs to be done --- with top-quality dancers.

A Chorus Line Tuesdays through Fridays through July 10 | Geva Theatre Center, 75 Woodbury Boulevard | $18.50 to $53.50 | 232-4382,

Like your theater read?

Sometimes you don't need all the glitz and glamour --- not when a good drama is at the heart of the show. The Jewish Community Center's Reader Theatre Series of staged readings concludes on Sunday, June 12, with Lovers & Traitors: The Killing of the Rosenbergs. It's Elissa Mautner's dramatization of the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg --- the first US civilians put to death for espionage. The plays in the Reader Theatre Series are always carefully chosen and staged. The reading is at the JCC, 1200 Edgewood Avenue, at 2 p.m. Free. 461-2000 ext 235