A Chorus Line by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Directed by Stephen Sanborn.
What they did for love
Thirty-two years ago, when this show was new, and really the first reality show on Broadway, about Broadway, about the business of Broadway, things were different. Developed in the first officially sanctioned workshop, then played at the still new Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in Greenwich Village prior to moving on to a spectacular, lengthy Broadway run, it broke rules and new ground with equal measure. But things were different then. Body microphones, those taped on extensions of people’s hair, weren’t being used and the chorus dancers of the day had become the chorus singers of the day as well. The old fashioned show with a twenty singers and sixteen dancers had been abandoned in favor of the multi-talented dancer/singers. And they sang. Not every note was a true note, but they sang their hearts out. They had to. No mikes.
What is missing in this edition of A Chorus Line is that sense of hearts being wrung out to dry. Too much dependence on the microphone, perhaps, highly visible on cheeks, controlled by unseen hands in the stage manager’s booth, has depleted the true story of the contenders for a job in this show’s plot. These are desperate people, eager people, people for whom this next job is everything. On the stage at Berkshire Community College’s Boland Theater, however, the emphasis seems to be on conserving energy, saving it up for the "moment" when a solo might happen.
The opening number "I Hope I Get It" is sung here by 25 people and even from the fourth row it sounded like a quartet of singers facing upstage. There was no urgency, no expectant energy, no volume, no emotions pent up and waiting to burst. Thankfully the orchestra played it guts out and, in part, made up for the lack felt in the singing of this ensemble. That’s different from the original presentation thirty-two years ago. Then you heard, felt, practically smelled the united need of these kids trying out for this show. And that’s what this show requires: need.
Maybe it’s the amateur, as opposed to the professional, in the roles. The cast in 1975 was made up of people who had lived through this sort of experience. They understood and could communicate what a chorus dancer/singer/actor worked for and required. These folks are all talented non-pros, well almost all, and they will go back to work, back to school, back to their families and do whatever else they do. But the characters they portray do what they do for the sheer love of it; the job is their relationship, their reward, their daily bread.
Among the better performances in this production were Joe Breen’s Mike, Heather Rowley’s Sheila, Brenda Galenus’ Val and Constance Lopez’s Diana. Each of their specialties were nicely played. Brian Litscher did a good job as Al and Peg Noonan as his wife Kristine was amusing and bright. Drew Davidson was effective as Bobby and Darrin French was equally well cast as Greg.
The three emotional spots in the show, reserved for Act Two, come through the monologues of Paul and the solo, "What I Did For Love," sung by Diana with the cast’s support. Both Lopez in her song and Adrian Alcala in his monologue brought the hoped-for tears and emotional release. Then there's Cassie, an almost-star hoping to restart her career. Tara Young does excellent work in this role making us believe there is someone here who understands that need missing in so many of the players. Her dance, her quarrels, her desire to fit in, all palpable and all flashing off the surface of her perfect makeup, give this production its sense of focus.
Michael Dunnell as the director, Zach, and Fran Martino as Laura, his assistant, survive the play, Martino with a snap, crackle and pop delivery and Dunnell as a far-more sympathetic director than I’ve ever seen before.
Stephen Sanborn as director and musical director has split his efforts and the music from the pit shines brighter than do the personalities on stage. This is not an easy to show for either the actors or the musicians and it felt from out in the house as though more time and thought had gone into the musical work than into the characterizations. Perhaps the concept was that, using those mikes, the sound person would compensate in volume for what was missing in the direction: sound person failure; director mis-conception. Bring back 1975, please, and the urgency and reality of this reality show.
This show plays for one more weekend at the Boland Theater at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, MA. Consult your local paper for box-office information and performance times.