A Chorus Line – Review by Tom Nissley

This great musical sketch of young and old hopefuls working through the perils of a Broadway Audition is getting a nice production at the Ivoryton Playhouse, directed and choreographed by Todd L Underwood. On what looks like a barebones set (Martin Scott Marchitto), meant to imply the empty stage of a big theater, twenty-plus dancers, with resumes in hand, are waiting to see if they can make it through the cuts and get hired for a new show. At first some of them fumble the intricate dance patterns set by Director Zach (Edward Stanley) and his assistant dance-master Larry (a super-flexible Max Weinstein) but gradually they meld into a few sets of synchronized high-kicking pros. After the first cut, seventeen are left, and Zach begins to interview them individually but while all are together on stage. Kind of a group therapy session, sometimes with others chiming in.

The process is extremely effective, and the personal stories that are shared become more and more interesting. First up is Mike (Dakota Hoar) who was the twelfth in his family, and sometimes tagged along when his sister went to dancing school. Once he went in her place and loved it. [Song – ‘I can do that!’] So he continued training and became a dancer. All of the dancers tell something of their stories.

Those that stand out in this production include Kristine (Amanda Lupacchino) and Al (Carl Zurhurst), a married couple with a wonderfully funny symbiotic relationship. Kristine can’t ‘SING,’ so Al inserts words and phrases for her in an intricate duet. Greg (Schuyler Beeman – an Ivoryton favorite), describes how he discovered he was homosexual. Diana (Natalie Madion) sings the beautiful ballad, ‘Nothing,’ telling how she got nothing from a drama teacher and felt nothing when the teacher died. Ritchie (the wonderful and super-flexible Ronnie S Bowman) dances with great leaps the story of how he almost became a kindergarten teacher. Val (Alexa Racioppi) sings about improving her anatomy in the raucous ‘Tits and Ass.’ Cassie (Stephanie Genito) argues that her past success as a solo dancer shouldn’t stop her from returning to the chorus line. But she does an adequate solo dance with the stage mirrors to emphasize the point.

Then comes Paul (a Regional favorite, Joey Lucherini) for a private talk on stage to Zach, in the house. Paul describes his struggles in school, finally finding a place for who he was and what he could do when he got a job as a drag dancer in a Chinese costume. (“I was like Anna May Wong!”) One night his parents surprised him by coming to the theater where they thought he worked and discovered in one fell swoop his cross dressing and that he was gay. It was his father telling the stage manager to ‘take care of my son!’ that brought tears because the father had never called him that before. Lucherini performed the role beautifully. It’s a centerpiece of the script, leading to a private hug from Zach.

When the dancers return to the stage they are improved and much more in sync, and still being tested. There’s another dialogue between Zach and Cassie, in which she makes the superb point that each of the dancers is special. They each have a place they’ve come from, and a journey going ahead, and none of them is better than another. The audience, following this theme, can identify with the dancers and perhaps see themselves in the process of the stories, which is probably why “A Chorus Line” became the longest running show on Broadway, playing from 1975 to 1990. [ Later surpassed by “Cats” and “Chicago.”]

It is Paul falling and breaking his recently operated-on knee in one of the last rehearsal sets that brings everyone’s spirits down and leads the way into the ballad, ‘What I did for Love,’ as he is carried off to the hospital.

But subsequently the winners are chosen, and the show is over. Except for the most impressive curtain call in theater history, as one at a time, the stage door spits out dancer after dancer, in identical golden costumes and carrying top hats and canes, turning into a non-stop chorus line with high kicks and short back steps on across the entire width of the stage, that morphs into superb choreography of a company dancing, to the tune of ‘ONE.’

If you’ve never seen “A Chorus Line,” or you’ve seen it lots, you’ll be glad you visited this production. Sets, costumes, lighting all super. Sound system a little troubled. Musicians – unseen under the hand of Michael Morris – terrific. Overall quality – way high. www.ivorytonplayhouse.org for tickets and info, or call 860-767-7318

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre