Ostensibly a show about finding eight dancers for a new, unnamed Broadway musical, A Chorus Line is really about revealing the private, sometimes tortured backstories of these young hopefuls. Beginning on an empty stage with a bare brick back wall and a white tape line stretching from wing to wing across the front, this “cattle-call” audition is first winnowed down to 17 dancers through incredibly fast-paced dance sequences, then called to stand on that “line” and through talk, song and dance expose themselves, so the director, Zach, can make his final cuts. They all are desperate to impress this director and get cast in his show.
The life experiences of these 17 characters range from the heartbreaking Paul, richly and movingly portrayed by Alejandro Fonseca, who wants only love and acceptance from his parents when his true self is revealed, to Sheila, at age 30, the oldest dancer on the line, whose dysfunctional family life has left her bitter, brassy and sarcastic, and happy to escape to the beautiful world of ballet, to Cassie, Zach’s former love interest and very talented Broadway performer, who really comes alive when she has another chance to dance. And this Cassie, played by Laura Savage, is truly a standout-a beautiful dancer-with strong singing and acting skills. All the adolescent pangs of self-discovery and quirky personality traits are right out there for us to see, as this cast fully inhabits the individual characters with solid acting and dancing chops. Sitting in the front row of the intimate Ruth Page Theatre put me right in the action, able to see every shiver, nuance and energy of these dancers—a real treat.
Originally conceived, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, this production’s director, marvelous Brenda Didier, brings out a vulnerability in these young dancers, a freshness, rawness, and enthusiasm in a show that is now 44 years old but never tired, as they invest their characters with an honesty and authenticity that is not always found today. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a family member in this production, a young ‘hopeful’ in her first professional gig. Happily, her character does make the final cut.
This quintessential theatre piece is really an homage to the unsung heroes of the stage—the ‘gypsies’—the chorus line of ensemble dancers, who often go from to show but don’t get star recognition. It is stunning in its simplicity, profound in packing an emotional punch, sad and heartwarming at the same time as you see dancers supporting each other. When Zach asks the final eight what they would do if they could no longer dance, Diana Morales (Adrienne Velasco-Storrs-one of only 4 equity actors in this production) begins a soulful, ultimately powerful and optimistic “What I Did for Love” that brought out quite a few handkerchiefs on opening night.
Even with slightly ill-fitting “One” costumes, A Chorus Line shines! It is not only the best backstage musical, maybe the best musical ever, it is truly “A Singular Sensation”. Don’t miss it.
Runs through May 31 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. For more information or tickets please go to porchlight music theatre
Photos by Michael Courier