Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 3, 2011
It’s tough to make a buck in the arts – let alone put food on the table or pay the rent. Two musical entertainments, rife with funny, touching stories and heartfelt, beautifully rendered songs, underscore the indomitable spirit of the starving artist.
One show’s an American classic, a groundbreaking musical of the 20th century — “A Chorus Line,” brought to us by the San Diego Musical Theatre. The other is a homegrown musical revue, “Raisin’ the Rent,” performed by the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, San Diego’s only African American dinner theater.
Rent Parties, which played a major role in the development of blues and jazz, originated in 1920s Harlem. A club-owner would invite friends in to perform, and the hat would be passed to help keep the landlord at bay.
Calvin Manson, founder/artistic director of the Ira Aldridge Repertory Players, recreates that feeling at the Lafayette Hotel in North Park, which even has an old-time bandshell .
In this revised version of his 2005 invention, our hosts are two zoot-suited guys, but it’s the wonder-women who steal the show: three powerhouse performers imbued with the energy, tonality and material of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Ruth Brown, and Bessie Smith. The conceit doesn’t always work, but we do get some backstory on each of these barrier-busters, and hear some of their signature songs. With a killer five-piece band, the first act is rousing and political. Act two is all about the blues, guaranteed to raise your temperature and your spirits.
Now you take some super singing and heartfelt backstories, and add in 23 terrific dancers high-kicking iconic choreography, and you’ve got yourself “A Chorus Line,” the wonderfully timeless, Tony and Pulitzer-winning 1975 creation of Michael Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban , who turned the spotlight on the rough-and-tumble life of Broadway gypsies, who go from audition to audition and show to show, all for the love of dance and the passion to perform.
San Diego Musical Theatre, under the direction of “Chorus Line” veteran Robert Marra , does this blockbuster proud. The dancing is great, and most of the solos hit the bull’s eye. At the end of their grueling, soul-bearing audition, the cast dons those famous gold costumes (a tad baggy here), to perform the perfect kickline for that singular sensation, the finale, “One.”
The only snag is the problematic sound balance. On opening night, the superb 16-piece orchestra, under the assured direction of Don LeMaster , often drowned out the dialogue – and sometimes the singers.
Still, this is an excellent production. If only the San Diego Musical Theatre featured more San Diego musical theater performers!
But the company keeps raising the bar, just as the Aldridge Players keep raisin’ the roof.
“Raisin’ the Rent,” runs through June 5, at the Lafayette Hotel in North Park.
The San Diego Musical Theatre production of “A Chorus Line” continues through June 12 at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza.
©2011 PAT LAUNER