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Theater review: ‘A Chorus Line’ still delivers the kicks at Laguna Playhouse

After nearly five decades, “A Chorus Line” continues to be a fresh, stimulating experience when we’re lucky enough to encounter it live.

This remains the ideal show and tell, a seamless, absorbing combination of visceral, exuberant choreography with a storyline delving into what makes dancers tick.

In 1975, “A Chorus Line” was a bit like “Hamilton” today: thrillingly unique, overwhelming Broadway with the genius of its fresh gaze and fully realized productions to pull new audiences to live theater, making many fans of musicals for life.

Beyond its originality, the financial impact of director/choreographer Michael Bennett’s wonderful creation was crucial in its time: the massive hit literally saved Broadway at a time the Shubert organization was on the brink of death’s door and theaters’ doors.

The bloodlines tracking back to this show’s origins are a good reason to see the mounting that opened this past weekend at Laguna Playhouse.

The late Bennett’s creative heir to “A Chorus Line” over the decades, Tony winner and original cast member Baayork Lee, mentored director/choreographer Luis Villabon in organizing stagings for at least the past 15 years around the world.

In charge here, Villabon’s vision of the work is familiar and satisfying.

As always, a young cast step-changes its way through auditions to try to impress a tough theater director and score a gig in the line of an upcoming musical.

As the show proceeds, we see marvelous moves and learn about the lives and feelings of these unknown performers.

If the characters’ ruminations on their personal experiences feel less original and revelatory than they did when the show was new, the characters themselves remain vivid, seducing  audiences to focus on individual performances.

A compelling Cassie is the crucial participant every successful “A Chorus Line” needs. Of the close to 20 performers on various levels of display at Laguna, her backstory of professional failure and redemption through dance and her extended solo to the song “The Music and The Mirror” makes this an imperative casting choice.

There is a lot to like in Katie Van Horn’s Cassie. Seen in Laguna’s “Hairspray” in 2017, Van Horn is a young, pliant and eye-catching dancer, also equipped with the acting chops to convey an older person’s frustrations with lost opportunities.

“A Chorus Line” is, by definition, one of those too-many-to-be-named ensemble efforts. Briefly, a few noteworthy performances include AJ Love’s snappy moves as Mike in the animated “I Can Do That,” Haley Ayers’ cheery cynicism and fleet footwork as Val inhabiting “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” and, as Diana, Daniella Castoria’s strongly sung “Nothing.”

A major part of the glories of this work are Marvin Hamlisch’s Tony-winning score, paired with Edward Kleban’s effective lyrics. Is there a better show-opening number, in terms of scene setting a plot and tone, than “I Hope I Get It”? Or the plainly delivered confessionals that land so well in “At The Ballet”?

Fiscal economies of scale in Laguna, it seems, finds this production done to a recorded score, which takes a bit of a luster off the proceedings. A questionable choice, too, is the inclusion of an intermission, which, while seen occasionally in other versions, generates a pause that isn’t in the work’s best interests.

Nonetheless, “A Chorus Line” remains one singular sensation, definitely worth experiencing when the chance comes along.

‘A Chorus Line’

Rating: 3 stars

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach

When: Through June 12.  7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays,  1 p.m. Sundays. Check online for added single-day performances.

Tickets: $55-95

Information: 949-497-2787; lagunaplayhouse.com

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