A Chorus Line, Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Directed by Malcolm Ewen. Choreographed by Michael Raine.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
A Chorus Line: photo: provided
"Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?"
Musicals, great musicals, are not all joyous. "West Side Story" for example is not joyous. The era of the musical comedy ended long before the creative team that forged "A Chorus Line" ever came together to find a way to tell the stories of chorus dancers. In 1974 they gathered in rooms to tell their stories, good and bad stories, about their experiences in the business and in 1975 those stories were put on stage in this show. The large company of players only wore two costumes each on a set that consisted of a line painted on the downstage floor and a half dozen revolving panels which included floor to ceiling mirrors. An unsuspecting audience was shown the inside of the folks they usually only saw from the outside while listening to tapping feet. The show ran for fifteen years on Broadway, inspired an uninspiring movie, and has been revived twice on the main stem. It has produced hundreds of regional, summer stock, and high school editions. It is, truly, one of the great shows of our time.
Now, on stage at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont, "A Chorus Line" is playing out its secret heart with a company of wonderfully talented folks who, in the course of just over two hours, make their way into the souls of each audience. This cast, under the direction of Malcom Ewen, is expert and affecting, talented and overt in telling their stories. The script keeps a few people reluctant to expose their personal truths, but the production provides them the warmth of light and space in which to do just what they must to survive.
The director has worked with his company to provide the visual and sensual stimuli that each character requires to be themselves. He has softened some of the more blatant characters and moved a few of the younger, inexperienced ones into a stronger place, making a more even company of players. This is a good thing for modern audiences. We can empathize with everyone in spite of some of the stranger things they say. The only place where this did not work well was in the character of Zach, the choreographer/director of the show being cast. He is meant to be more radical than he is in this production. He needs to have a harsher, edgier tone when he addresses people. Here Ewen betrays the reality of the play - and this is a play with a strong purpose - by not giving Zach that over-awing sense of playing God to the people he is bent on creating. However, the show itself, under his control, is a gem and so very worth seeing.
Zach is played by Jim Raposa who does a nice job with the role as directed. Actor's don't always like to play the mean man, and Raposa sits on the fence of nasty and likeable refusing to fall on either side, but riding that centerpoint. His Zach is the only weak point in the fence and that is only for the moment, it would seem, for the script tells us one thing about him that we never see and that is his lack of compassion and understanding. In Raposa's performance we see and hear that side of him far too often.
His ex-girlfriend Cassie, the almost-made-it trying for a fresh start in the business is played here by Sara Andreas. She is a wonderful Cassie, strong, assertive, never able to be beaten down and yet willing to just fit in, just to work. Andreas makes the role as true as anyone ever has, but her big solo dance is not quite the stunner we would wish for. Not her fault. Not at all.
Genna-Paige Kanago works her wiles as Val and nearly stops the show with her song. She is a delight as is John Scacchetti in the role of Mike. A wonderful tap dancer he also nearly stopped the show with his solo. Malik Akil Kimani Victorian, playing Richie, had just the right tone for the role and his dancing was also superb.
Alison McCartan was a sensitive and lovely Maggie reminiscing about a difficult childhood. Joanna Schlitt added just the right touches to her role as Bebe, a newbie with drive and fears stemming from her own childhood and Nikka Graff Lanzarone's softer than usual take on Sheila made her a standout in the role.
Brandon Rubendall was a wonderful Al with a wonderful voice and his dancing was surprisingly good. Felicity Stiverson as his wife, Kristine, was charming although a bit too good a singer, but why not afterall, when other small subtle changes were brought into being in this version. Hannah Flam was a fine Judy.
The inadvertent star of "A Chorus Line" is usually the Diana, played here in fine form by Claudia Yanez. Diana has two of the best songs in the show and Yanez delivered beautifully on both, making us laugh with "Nothing" and weep with "What I Did For Love." As her friend, Paul, whose story is so central to the depths of the show, Michael John Hughes gave a fine performance, a moving one. Paul's story always offends some members of the audience and the opening night performance in Weston seemed to have that effect on two of the folks in the dark. Their departure seemed almost like a choreographed moment - they were sitting in the third row. making their exit very obvious to most of us. In 2014 this seems almost gratuitous for no statement can make a real difference to our understanding of the humanity of this show. Still, it stressed the uniqueness of the play.
So much is added to the show through the lighting design of Stuart Duke. His choices for color and warmth play heavily on the personal stories of the company. He has provided beautiful safe spaces for them. He has lighted the interiors of the people and not just their faces, hands and feet. This is a difficult thing to accomplish, but in this show he has moved into that elite group of designers who play a role in a play, not just flip a switch. Jim Sandefur set is traditional (the third panel on the rotating panels can be seen above - wonderful really. Karen Ann Ledger's costumes are simple and fine for the finale.
You may think you know this show. I always do. Every production brings out something new and this one is no exception. Go see it for what you love and come home, hopefully, with some new thoughts.
A Chorus Line plays at the Weston Playhouse on the square in Weston, Vermong (Route 100) through August 23. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-824-5288 or go on line to westonplayhouse.org.