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THEATER REVIEW : It's No Singular Sensation, but a Few Shine in 'Chorus Line'


The Covina Valley Playhouse, an adventurous, 10-year-old community theater, has managed another ambitious undertaking with the classic dance musical "A Chorus Line."

The 1975 show about dancers auditioning for an unnamed Broadway musical is a particular challenge for a community theater, requiring a 19-member ensemble that can sing, dance and act.

The results in this case are uneven but salvaged by the hot hoofing of the show's best dancers, Raphael Barragan, Alec Isbell and Edward Johnson; the show's strongest singer, Lisa ("What I Did for Love") Kakassy, and the singularly vivacious, sassy and sexy Lori Halopoff.

Helmed by Louis A. Velazquez, this production draws its diverse talent from throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties. If you've ever seen the show on whatever level, the Covina interpretation enjoys pockets of crisp energy and the cast is an attractive, disciplined ensemble.

What it misses, though, is that driving, aggressive edge--that sharp tapping, crackle and snap--that vaults you into a special world.

This is not entirely the production's fault. The show's concept remains fresh, but in the nearly 20 years since the musical's debut, its self-indulgent tone has flunked the test of time.

In the show, a tough director named Zach (Dorman Smith) attempts to size up how well his eventual dancers will work together by insisting they all talk about their private selves.

This opens up a Pandora's box of personal odysseys about oafish, terrible, upper-middle-class parents, sexual confusion and societal rejection. That was fine for the "me decade" of the '70s, but it seems flat and outdated now.

In the worst-case scenario, actor Paul Rivera's dancer, mumbling--you have to strain to hear him, and it's complicated by the theater's rough acoustics--almost lulls the house to sleep with a self-consciously dreary litany about growing up gay.

On the other hand, the unraveling of a frayed onetime relationship between Zach and dancing aspirant Cassie (Sonni Louiseau) works because it illuminates the grinding life of a dancer who could have been a star but didn't make it and is now back to the chorus line.

Louiseau is a much better actress than dancer, however. Her performance of the centerpiece dance number, "The Music and the Mirror," is more cautious than thrilling.

Still, Marvin Hamlisch's sprightly music (enlivened by musical director Tom Robinson's offstage band) and the intricate dance formations by Covina choreographer Angelo B. Collado make for plenty of engaging moments.

* "A Chorus Line," Covina Valley Playhouse. 104 N. Citrus Ave., Covina, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Sunday matinees, 2 p.m., Oct. 30, Nov. 6 and Nov. 13. Ends Nov. 19. $12, $10 (for senior citizens and students). (818) 339-5135. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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