A Chorus Line
nytheatre.com review by Nita Congress
October 7, 2012
The mid-seventies of the last century was a turbulent and confused and confusing time. An unpopular war brought to an unsatisfactory end, economic woes, inflation and gas rationing, a feeling of unrest and restlessness, criminality and sexuality. A conscious grappling with the issues and attitudes raised in the sixties.
Against this backdrop, a stripped-down, improbably gritty-yet-glitzy show singing and dancing about the unsung—the hopeful Broadway hoofer—emerged. It sparked, flamed, exploded, capturing and encapsulating the zeitgeist. Its toe-tapping and infectious songs—“What I Did for Love,” “Nothing,” “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” and of course “One”—its simple, sad, and sweet answer to how long will all this last?, its indelible everyman characters, and its quintessential showmanship made it a colossal hit. A Chorus Line arguably rescued Broadway, resuscitated a near-bankrupt New York, inspired progeny from Cats to Rent, and enthralled millions of theatre-goers.
And, like The Music Man’s 76 Trombones, it’s marching still, right today. And continuing to enthrall.
I am perhaps the last musical theatre aficionada “of a certain age” who had not previously seen A Chorus Line. So this most recent ambitious mounting by the Paper Mill Playhouse had some pretty high expectations to meet: almost forty years of hype and anticipation fueled by periodic check-ins with the OCR.
Did it meet them? Let me count the ways:
- A talented and effervescent cast, with several standout performances
- Energized and emotive dancing
- Smart—very smart—choreography and direction
- Glossy production values
- Sincerity, warmth, and heart
In a nutshell, this is a great show, well realized, well performed, well done. The lion’s share of the credit goes to director-choreographer Mitzi Hamilton, associated with the show from its beginnings as the inspiration for one of the hoofers (Val). Hamilton has dedicated much of her career to A Chorus Line, directing 35-plus productions, and her love and respect for the piece shine through. And this is no dim carbon copy (there’s a term with no technological analogue in this century), no museum artifact: I heard many in the audience comparing this favorably to the vitality and freshness of the original.
Hamilton guides the show, and has peopled it with some exciting talents. Standouts for me were Rachelle Rak, as the attitude-laden, wounded-on-the-inside, Sheila; Gabrielle Ruiz as a flawless Diana (she’s the one who sings both the comedic “Nothing” and the heart-wrenching “What I Did for Love”), whose dancing was as precise and controlled as her singing; and Mark Myars as the plucky Mike (“I Can Do That”). Jessica Lee Goldyn makes a beautiful, convincing Cassie; Ashley Arcement a saucy Val; J. Manuel Santos a poignant Paul. But this singling out is not to in any way denigrate the rest of the cast—Carleigh Bettiol, Kevin Boseman, Kyle Brown, Mike Cannon, Jennifer Cordiner, Kevin Curtis, KC Fredericks, Julia Freyer, Martin Harvey, Jordan Fife Hunt, Chris Klink, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Brian Letendre, Jeffrey Pew, Amanda Rose, Alexzandra Sarmiento, Grant Thomas, Jessica Vaccaro, Kyle Vaughn, and Karley Willocks—all of whom breathed life, humor, energy, and pathos into their individual creations, making these characters three-dimensional and resonant. Not to mention the ensemble’s skilled and inspired dancing.
Aiding and abetting all this is a team of skilled designers and craftsmen and a generous budget that is amply displayed in a gaudy, satisfying, lump-in-the-throat gold-and-lights finale. This high was stoked almost impossibly higher on opening night, when fifty original cast and touring company members joined the ensemble onstage at the Paper Mill to honor and pay tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who died just before this production opened.
I would like to think that he would have been very happy.