For its second offering of the SummerFest season, Kentucky Conservatory Theatre opened its entertaining but uneven production of A Chorus Line, the iconic 1970s musical about Broadway dancers revealing their inner lives at an audition.
The reason for any company to do A Chorus Line is to show off a stable of fabulous dancers. That is not the case in this production, although the cast of primarily singer/actors attempts valiantly to play professional dancers.
Most of them will undoubtedly have grown a lot in that skill through being in this show, and many of them rise to the occasion creditably.
The choreography by Jenny Fitzpatrick, who also takes an effective star turn as the show's Broadway has-been Cassie, is inventive within the limitations of the dancers. Wesley Nelson's stage direction keeps the monologues and musical numbers moving dramatically.
However, when the dialogue or songs become kaleidoscopic, shifting quickly from character to character, Fitzpatrick or Nelson could have given a bit of staging or movement to help the audience focus its attention to the appropriate person.
The most compelling performances in this production come from stage veterans who allow their acting to carry them through.
Ellie Clark comes close to stealing the show as the aging sexpot Sheila, with a number of acerbic wisecracks. Clark imbues her character with fascinating hues of bitterness, regret, rage and fading hope.
Similarly, Josh Stone as Paul, who gives the show's famous monologue about growing up to be a drag queen, reveals the heartache and insecurity of his character long before the words of his confessional.
Some of the casting was obviously predicated on dance skills alone; otherwise, the blond teenager Patrick Garr would never have been cast as the Italian "sex maniac" Mike. His dance number, I Can Do That, is phenomenal, but how can he really fulfill the rest of what that part requires?
Similarly, no effort was made for Cindy Head to look or sound like the Puerto Rican dancer Diana, whose ethnicity is a crucial part of her story. Head's placid delivery of her material on opening night did not help convince us that she is a fiery Latina.
As Val, who sings the infamous "T&A" song Dance: Ten; Looks: Three, Ashleigh Chrisena Ricci gives her best effort, but she herself is not amply endowed in any of the areas the song suggests, and the big bust cartoonishly drawn on her chest only emphasizes her modest proportions. The directors would have done better to allow her natural sexiness to carry the day if there was not a more Barbie-like performer to cast in the part.
Tom Gibbs does a fine job as Zach, the show's director, but his costume is ill-conceived: He looks like Rasputin, not a hip Broadway choreographer.
The singing in this show is generally very good, with special praise for Lindsey Austin and her astonishing high-belt voice in the role of Maggie; Whit Whitaker and his great R&B moment as Richie; and Colton Ryan and Ella White as the married Al and Kristine for the hilarious duet in which they demonstrate their disparate singing skills.
Paige Mason, Anna Wilson, Avery Wigglesworth, Isaac Jones, Miles Sullivan, Zach Schoner and Kenny Demus, rounding out the chorus line, all have their shining moments.
On Wednesday's opening night, the band under the direction of Matt Hodge played with verve, but the keyboardists need more practice. Their performance was littered with wrong notes, and they had simplified some of Marvin Hamlisch's more sophisticated harmonies, to pejorative effect.
If you're going to stage a dance classic without a full complement of dancers, at least get the award-winning music right.
'A Chorus Line'
What: SummerFest's production of the Broadway musical
When: 8:45 p.m. July 24-28, July 31-Aug. 4. Gates open at 7.
Where: The Arboretum, 500 Alumni Dr.
Tickets: General admission: $15 advance, $18 gate; reserved chair: $20 advance, $25 gate; reserved blanket for four: $65 advance, $90 gate. Order at Mykct.org.
Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.