By Karen Isaacs
A Chorus Line now at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, Sept. 2 is a “singular sensation” as one of its most well-known songs says. The show has everything and this production has almost everything right.
It’s hard to think some are not familiar with this ground-breaking, Pulitzer Prize winning musical that opened in 1975 and is still a favorite. A new tour is on the horizons.
It opens with a bare stage with the “ghost light” – the light that is always on- as dancers arrive in various dress carrying their bags of shoes and more. They are at an audition conducted by a well- known director/choreographer, Zach. With his assistant teaching them steps, he puts them through their paces until he winnows the group down. Some are dismissed, but that doesn’t mean the others are hired. All of them, as the opening says, are hoping to get this job because they need it. The life of the dancers in shows (until recently referred to as “gypsies”) is a hard one. Dancing wears on the body, aging happens fast, and there is always a bright-eyed younger dancer arriving in New York.
Zach has planned a different kind of audition; he wants to get to know them, not just see them dance. So he asks that each talk and tell stories of their lives. He doesn’t want them to “perform” or try to “act” but to talk about their experiences. For some, this is a frightening request and many of them reveal the issues that propelled them to dance.
We get to know them through their stories and the songs composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban. The book is by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante based on sessions that Michael Bennett (the conceiver, director and choreographer of the piece) held over a period of months with actual dancers.
Under the sure handed direction and choreography by Todd L. Underwood and the musical direction of Michael Morris, the cast excels.
At times, I had never been so moved by some of the stories these dancers tell about their lives during this very non-traditional audition for a show.
How do you pick a favorite song or story? Mike (Dakota Hoar) explains how he realized at a young age that “I can do that” and soon took over his sister’s dance lessons. He was a natural. Then there are Sheila (Lili Thomas) the older more cynical dancer, Bebe (Kayla Starr Bryan) and Maggie (Liv Kurtz) share the stories of their unhappy family lives in “At the Ballet.” It’s a poignant number about how each of them found the love and ideal world at the ballet which was lacking in family life that featured unhappy marriages and unloving parents.
But all is not gloom and doom. Kristine (Amanda Lupacchino) with the help of her husband explains that she really cannot “Sing.” And then most of the company has a great time with “Hello Twelve” about the experiences of puberty.
Some of the male dancers talk about realizing their homosexuality, trying to hide it, or the rejection they faced.
Diana, in a very good performance by Natalie Madlon, talks about her high school acting class, where she could feel “nothing” when trying to be a table or riding a bobsled. And Val, in a very funny and slightly over the top performance by Alexa Racioppi, describes how she never got cast until she had plastic surgery for some “tits and ass.”
But one of the over-arching stories is Cassie, played touchingly by Stephanie Genito, who had a brief moment of almost-stardom but has learned that she isn’t a star and only wants to dance. The problem is that she and Zach were a couple and it hurts his ego to see her back in the line. She shares her new found understanding of her limitations and of her need to dance as she begs him to cast her. “The Music and the Mirror” is her expression of her love for dancing.
The standout performance for me was Joey Lucherini as Paul. He doesn’t want to tell it, but alone with Zach he reveals his life story. It’s too poignant to spoil for you; you just have to see him.
At the end of the audition, Zach asks them all one more question: What will they do when they can no longer dance. It leads into the well-known song, “What I Did for Love” – which isn’t about romance but about dedication.
At the end, Zach selects four men and four women for the cast.
The finale is a full-staging of the number they have used during the audition, “One” better recognized as “one, singular sensation” in which they back up the leading lady. Only this time, it is they who get the applause, even though there is no traditional curtain calls.
This production has an intermission; the original and some productions do not. The intermission releases some of the tension but it is quickly recovered since some of the bigger numbers are in the second half.
Almost all the cast excels; the exceptions are few and even their weaknesses are minimal. I would have liked Zach (Edward Stanley) to project more assertiveness and charisma. Yet his performance isn’t deficient; it just could be better. Sheila (Lili Thomas), the older dancer is not quite as cynical as often portrayed. While I liked the interpretation, it changed the balance of the show which has so much youthful enthusiasm.
By the end of the evening, you care about almost all of these characters and you want them all to be cast. You feel the disappointment of those who will have to go to another audition and another hope of a job.
The setting is plain – a blank stage but designer Martin Scott Marchitto has added some pillars to define the front of house. The costumes by Kate Bunce reflect the eclectic tastes of the dancers. Laura Lynne Knowles has done a fine job with the sound, particularly since Zach is often talking from the back of the house.
The choreography of the show is iconic and included in some of the script since the dancers are taught the choreography of “One” as part of the audition process. Underwood kept that but did a fine job with the new work for some many numbers: “I Can Do That,” “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” and of course, “The Music and the Mirror.” Underwood also has fluidly integrated the dance with the overall direction so it never seems as though the scene stops and the dance begins; they flow from dialogue, song into dance.
Go see A Chorus Line at Ivoryton Playhouse. It’s there through Sunday, Sept. 2. For tickets, call 860-767-7318 or Ivoryton Playhouse
This content is courtesy of Shore Publishing and zip06.