Putting It All On The Line
By R. J. Donovan
Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham returns for another season (its 44th) with an energetic production of "A Chorus Line," directed by Leslie Woodies.
Conceived and originally choreographed and directed by legendary Michael Bennett, “A Chorus Line" features a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban.
The setting is the bare stage of a Broadway theater. The time is 1975 and an audition is in mid-session. A full stage of performers is hoping to make the cut to win one of 8 coveted slots in the fictional show -- 4 men and 4 women.
Over the course of the next two hours, we get to know the personal history and inner thoughts of the varied group of dancers -- young and old, married and single, gay and straight.
The goal is that the dancers perform as one seamless unit. There's no star, no standout. In order to succeed and get the part, each dancer has to dance like every other dancer. That's what being in the chorus us all about. You're backing the star.
"A Chorus Line" was the culmination of a series of workshops and late-night talk sessions led by Bennett and detailing the true stories of how the participants became dancers. As such, the stories you hear during the course of the show are scripted versions, based on the actual experiences and memories of the dancers who were part of the original project. Some stories were blended together, others were edited. (And in some cases with the original cast in New York, the stories of Real Dancer #1 were actually being played by another actor.)
Despite this being a true ensemble piece without a real load role, Reagle repeats the recent trend (hello Mario Lopez) of attaching a star to the role of Zach, the driven director-choreographer of the fictitious show. Lorenzo Lamas (at left) is a dashing addition to the mix and lends just the right blend of fatherly guide and touchy disciplinarian.
One of the charms of "A Chorus Line" is that is contains some beautiful stage pictures. During "At The Ballet," a trio of actresses share their stories (and their inner monologues) about how they first started to dance. The number begins very simply with the character of Sheila remembering her first classes. Then Bebe joins in, followed by Maggie. The number becomes a revealing therapy session of sorts, but the staging very subtly includes several stunning visual images that build to reveal a full dance studio, brimming with activity, only then to revert back to the empty stage and the rigid line of dancers.
That line itself needs to be mentioned too. The dancers, literally standing on a line drawn across the stage floor, appear to be arranged at random. The first time they march towards you with their head shots held in front of their faces makes for a strong image.
Several of the musical numbers continue to expand the story, only to snap back, once again, to the line. The line remains constant -- until one of the dancers is injured and has to be taken away. When the line returns to focus this time, there's a gap in it. And the subtle effect gives you goosebumps.
While the dancers' stories all have emotion and meaning, the world has changed since 1975, as has the intensity of some of the tales. Things which were once whispered about are now front and center, plastered on every Facebook page and hardly worth the gossip. But the stories are still very genuine. And while their are some heavy emotions, the show also has a great deal of humor.
Bobby humorously shares how he survived the doldrums of growing up in Buffalo. Mike started dancing because of his sister, who long ago gave up her tap shoes.
There's Sheila, who's going to be 30 real soon, and is real glad. Ritchie, who once imagined himself a kindergarten teacher. Val, who danced great but never got the job because of her looks. Kristine, who can't carry a tune in a bucket. The imperious Gregory Gardner. And Cassie, former par amour of Zack, who fled stardom on Broadway for a failed stint in Hollywood and is now back hoping to start anew.
As Cassie, Katie Clark (at left) has the challenge of dancing the "Music And The Mirror" solo that is designed to stop the show. She pretty much pulls it off to enthusiastic audience reaction.
As Val, Danielle Goldstein gives a sassy rendition of "Dance Ten, Looks Three," detailing how she used plastic surgery to get the job.
Allison Russell sings beautifully as Maggie, the girl with the active imaginary lifewho longed to dance with her father. Indicating her frailties as well as the security of dancing, she sings "raise your arms and someone's always there."
As Mike, Bradley Jensen dances up a storm in "I Can Do That."
In the two standout performances, Aimee Doherty is the aggressively in-your-face Sheila -- the diva who's bored with the process and lets you know it -- and Scott Abreu is Paul, the sensitive boy with a secret. xx has to deliver a fairly long monologue which he accomplishes with sensitivity, rolling out the story with measured emotion.
The original production of "A Chorus Line" opened in New York at the Public Theater’s Newman Theatre on May 21, 1975, and transferred to Broadway's Shubert Theatre on July 25. It would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Score and Book, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. It ran for nearly 15 years, closing on April 28, 1990, after 6,137 performances.
Next up at Reagle is "Bye, Bye Birdie," playing July 13 - 22, followed by "My Fair Lady" from August 10 - 19.
"A Chorus Line" from Reagle Music Theatre is at Robinson Theatre through June 24. For information, call 781-891-5600.
-- Production Photos: Herb Philpott
-- OnStage Boston
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