By Marc Snetiker
Updated July 30, 2016 at 06:47 PM EDT
Credit: Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

Los Angelenos may only have limited experience, personally or by proxy, of the mean mezzanines of 42nd Street, but they still know a good cattle call when they see one — and, to wit, a good musical about one, too.

The Hollywood Bowl’s summer season kicked off its last trimester with its annual fully-staged, star-studded musical production, which this year brought the Michael Bennett marquee classic A Chorus Line to the famous nestled amphitheater.

This year’s cast was not as star-studded as earlier productions — the ostensible headliner here is Mario Lopez, reprising his one-time Broadway role as director Zach, who’s largely off stage — but the draw nevertheless lies primely in the reprise of the show’s cherished standards and inextricable choreography by Bennett and Bob Avian, here recreated by director and original Line star Baayork Lee. A Chorus Line exists to give voice and pathos to theater’s most versatile and oft underserved player — the ensemble dancer — and in Lee’s homage-heavy production, the steps (if not quite the spirit) of the original are represented through the inspiring efforts of a bevy of the city’s most chiseled and curved.

Of major note to the Los Angeles audience is the Bowl debut of ballet A-lister Robert Fairchild, one of musical theater’s most exciting recent talents (despite what’s actually a very lengthy pedigree with the New York City Ballet). If nothing else, bless the Bowl for allowing Fairchild to float across the proscenium on this coast. Fresh off a Tony-nominated Broadway debut last year headlining An American in Paris, Fairchild here plays Mike, whose early solo number “I Can Do That” set a tone of finesse that the rest of the two-hour production strove to match.

Chicago vet Leigh Zimmerman, Kelsey Walston, and Mara Davi (one of several cast members reprising their role from the 2006 Broadway revival) elevated the evening’s vocals with the first soaring ballad, “At the Ballet,” a haunting trio that, for fans of A Chorus Line, may have finally found its venue match in the cavernous Hollywood Bowl. Zimmerman and Davi’s harmony was pitch-perfect and filled the space the way Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban must have only dreamed of.

As did the show-stopping “Montage,” the pulsing four-parter charting the dancers’ struggles through puberty amid choice comedic digressions (Denis Lambert’s Greg and Tiana Okoye’s Judy stand out). The centerpiece, of course, breaks for “Nothing,” played with much-needed sass by Broadway regular Krysta Rodriguez, easily the night’s most valuable player as the soul-searching Morales. “Sing,” the sort-of duet between Justin Michael Wilcox (who can) and Courtney Lopez (who can’t, on purpose) also landed with equal comic happiness, bolstered by strong performances from both.

Jason Tam, also reprising his Broadway role, took the night to an emotional high point with his wrenching monolog as timid, vulnerable young dancer Paul. Sarah Bowden made a sturdy if uneventful stride in her admirable “Music in the Mirror,” which perhaps was swallowed up by the Bowl’s overbearing, but still earned the evening’s most sustained praise.

The flip side of all this: A Chorus Line should operate much like its opening number, as one long swell of music, continuously heightened as the volume increases and the stakes rise during this high-intensity audition. In this production’s case, momentum didn’t stream so much as sputter. Former Cheetah Girl Sabrina Bryan, as the should-be-showstopping Val, was eaten alive by the comic necessity and vocal challenge of “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”; Teen Beach Movie star Ross Lynch also squandered a fun comedic moment as nervous Mark.

Fortunately, and once again characteristic of the show itself, the stars here are not stars here. A Chorus Line shines when the marquee names become faceless and blend in amid a sea of bodies ebbing and flowing as dreamy shapes. The ever-anticipated golden kickline finale is merely a cherry on top of the journey to get there. “A dancer dances,” says Cassie, and it’s the simplest and only review one needs for A Chorus Line. Even if the expectation of the very costumes and poses of these performers’ predecessors is daunting, a dancer dances here, in this production and all, and those who don’t dance are often lucky to get to watch.

A Chorus Line runs through July 31 at the Hollywood Bowl.