January 24, 2020
Perfect time for a perfect show in an imperfect era, Iowa Stage delivers ‘One’ for the musical theatre ages
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Adore Us! Line exploded onto stage during its opening night, sold-out performance with the energy of a dozen neck-and-neck political candidates striving for an edge on the day of the caucuses. This 90-minute, no-intermission musical masterpiece pushes the politico-creative pedal to the metal, and doesn’t let up until its final production number. Its namesake, A Chorus Line, should be proud to see the iconic music and stories wittily twisted into a laugh-a-minute gem that sparkles from opening note to joyous finale. This is undoubtedly the best parody of A Chorus Line ever conceived and delivered, expanding the musical the world knows so well into a veritable treasure trove of performance gold.
A perfect storm of talent met at the epicenter of creative responses to Iowa’s (and, the nation’s) inundation of Democratic candidate competitiveness. Art imitates life through a clever parody lens in Adore Us! Line. Robert John Ford, its creator, had established his musical theatre genius with previous successes – Six-on-Six: The Musical, Utopia, and the internationally praised Caucus! The Musical franchise (staged reading 2004, productions 2008, 2012, and 2016). With the parody possibilities drained from the Caucus series, Ford needed another approach to mine the rich ore of the Iowa caucus process. He struck paydirt with Adore Us! Line. Ford’s talents have never been better honed in capturing that razor-fine line between too much, not enough, sass and sappy. Every number, every character, every minute is filled with rewarding fodder for its audiences.
Ford’s script, concept and adaptation to an iconic show’s songs provide an exquisite foundation upon which director Maxwell Schaeffer builds a musical theatre masterpiece. Plucked from the current A-list of Central Iowa talent, he found great fits for each role. He keeps the pacing fun, fast and even frenetic. With movement wizardry from the queen of choreography, Megan Helmers, this show is a captivating homage to its origin material. Bringing a special life to Ford’s score is music director Eric Layden. Layden’s four-keyboard plus drums/percussion orchestra pushes the music at a marvelously intuitive pace, strongly attentive to its role of accompanying the singers and allowing them to often get Ford’s Sondheim-esque bounty of lyrics delivered.
The driving force of Adore Us! Line is its ensemble. Collectively, this cast is the creative sum of its powerful parts. Each performer gets their moment to shine, yet all work together with a joyous commitment to this show. Powerful voices, evocative representations of the candidates represented, and many moments of spontaneous, extended laughter anchor this production. Some highlights include an introductory gem with most of the candidates singing “Wow” (“I Can Do That”) Charlie Reese (Joe Biden), Joe Smith (Bernie Sanders), Madison Ray (Cory Booker), Jonathan deLima (Beto O’Rourke), Ryan Henzi (as a very youthful Pete Buttigieg), Michael Clinkscales (Marianna Williamson), Davida Wiliams (Kamala Harris), Heidi Mason (Amy Klobuchar), Mary Bricker (Elizabeth Warren); Reese in his rousing dance solo in “Wisconsin and Ohio” (“Music and the Mirror”)…after belting this number; Henzi, especially in leading “For the Time Is Now” (“What I Did for Love”) with his crystal clear singing.
Fans will truly delight in Ford’s adaptation of “Sing!” into “Pissed!” with a spot-on Bernie from Smith, the “Montage” sequence (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”) featuring Mason, Ray, and the rest of the candidates. A special tip of the glittered top hat goes to Utility Actors 1 and 2, Sydney M. Allen and Clinkscales, for their multiple roles playing mastery. Add the tie that binds this to the Caucus series, Eric Olson as “Iowa Voter” who is a returning pivotal character from those earlier shows, and followers of Ford’s political leg-pulling will be especially delighted. For anyone’s first contact with Ford’s musical magic, you will be as delighted as longtime fans. You can take that to the ballot box in a landslide.
The Culture Buzz theatre reviews are written by professional writers to inform and enlighten. To receive weekly newsletters, email TheCultureBuzz@gmail.com or visit www.TheCultureBuzz.com. The Culture Buzz is a weekly broadcast/streaming arts & entertainment collection of conversations, airing Wednesdays 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Central Time on KFMG 98.9 FM and streaming at www.kfmg.org.