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I'd seen enough Chorus Lines, I thought, to eliminate all surprises: which stories will be affecting, which of the 24 auditioning dancers will make the final eight, even most of the jokes. What came as a surprise, as I watched San Diego Musical Theatre's production at the Lyceum Stage, was a sad kind of relevance.

The musical takes place in 1976. Dancers young and old "really need this job," not just for the money but to pursue their calling. Each wants, one says, to do "what I love as much as I can as long as I can."

Today, with the national jobless rate at nine percent - creative math most likely masking an even larger number - people need a job, any job. Doing what they love isn't just "nice work if you can get it." For most it's become a pipe dream.

Thanks to financial support from Joseph Papp, Bennett had the time to do what he loved. Bennett taped interviews with dancers, gathered their sometimes tragic, always hopeful stories together and built the show without "the pressure of being in a hotel room in Boston...with a deadline and $4 million" riding on hasty artistic decisions.

A Chorus Line presents the personalities behind the precise choreography of a Broadway show. The speakers have less than 15 minutes of fame before the chosen don gilded, show-bizzy outfits and blend into mere background for a star.

One persistent problem with SDMT's version: full cast dance numbers need to be tighter, more robotic, as much an assembly line as a lively art. In particular, the climactic "One," where even slight variations not only bother the eye, they cut against the musical's theme.

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The production has many pluses. Musical director Don LeMaster guides a solid, 16 piece orchestra - 16 working musicians in San Diego! Miracle! And Jared Sayeg's expert lighting sculpts the bare Lyceum stage.

Alexis Carra does as fine a Cassie as I've ever seen (her song/interpretive dance, "The Music and the Mirror" is a knockout). Leslie Stevens is appropriately arch as the jaded veteran Sheila. Though he could reign in the shyness a bit (it's there without the extra oomph), Gabriel Villanueva is touching as Paul, caught between two worlds. And as Diana, Jessica Naimy's "What I Did For Love" brings down the house.

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