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Sorrow and pizzazz

A Chorus Line is a razzle-dazzle show that aches with sadness

An enormous, superbly talented ensemble cast brings a Broadway juggernaut to Tacoma Little Theatre. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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For a musical as chock-full of razzle-dazzle dance numbers and showstopping songs, A Chorus Line is a show that's utterly suffused with sadness. Yes, there are moments of humor, and the sheer thrill of seeing a stacked cast of dancers going all out is enough to keep the show from being a downer. But this is fundamentally a show about desperate artists, many with sorrowful pasts, who will likely never achieve the fame and success that they so strive for -- and even if they do, the career of a dancer is a short and arduous one. It's telling that A Chorus Line, on several occasions, invokes the tragic ballet classic, The Red Shoes.

Directed and choreographed by Eric Clausell, Tacoma Little Theatre's production of A Chorus Line features an enormous cast of familiar faces in the South Sound theater scene, as well as some newcomers -- all of whom superbly navigate a seemingly endless series of dance routines with grace and alacrity. The plot, such as it is, concerns a group of dancers auditioning to be in a Broadway show, with each prospective dancer eventually telling the story of their life to a mostly unseen director (Micheal O'Hara). Because of this structure, there really are no proper main characters, as each one gets their moment to shine. Still, there are characters that lend a bit more weight to the story.

Sheila (Heather Malroy) is sexy and confident, though she worries about aging out of the business; Cassie (Whitney Shafer) has moved back to New York after an unsuccessful stint in Hollywood; Val (Melanie Gladstone) is an enthusiastic social climber, having discovered the powers of plastic surgery; Diana (Keola Holt) found her passion for performing after enduring terrible classes at an arts high school; and Paul (Roycen Daley) is a natural dancer, but is reluctant to talk about his past. Offstage for much of the play, O'Hara interrogates the auditioners about how they got to where they are, brilliantly balancing a hard-assed attitude with a sense of empathy.

Far from being your standard, frothy musical, A Chorus Line very much reflects its origins in the ‘70s, where even light entertainments could get quite dark. Similar to another famous exploration of dance, Saturday Night Fever, A Chorus Line injects deeply troubling subject matter into its narrative, but these elements are introduced and then immediately forgotten. I honestly don't know if I would've preferred a show that's more focused on childhood trauma, but as it is, A Chorus Line feels a little off-balance.

This all comes down to the performances, though, and each cast member does a fantastic job. A particular highlight is the heartbreaking "At the Ballet," featuring Malroy, Lisa Kelley, and Cynthia Ryan. And, in a show of showstopping numbers, Daley got the biggest applause break by simply delivering a monologue. A Chorus Line blends melancholy and pizzazz, hope and defeat, joy and despair, into a big, bold production that, cliches not intended, will actually have you laughing and crying.

A CHORUS LINE, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through March 29, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma, $22-$27, 253.272.2281,

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