note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark
Directed by Justin Dilly
Music Direcftion by Kyle Haugen
Assistant Choreographer Jenny Illes
Scenic Design by Sonya Worden, Justin Dilly
Lighting Design by Justin Dilly
Costume Design Lisa Cahill
Technical Director/Sound Design by Bryan Bettencourt
Costume Design by Lisa Cahill
Co-Produced by Laurie Fisher, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman
Assistant Producer Inga Dorfman
Hair Design by Betsy McPartland
Make-up Design by Judy Leonardo
Props by Sar Collins
Assistant Stage Managers Ben Beckvold, Inga Dorfman
Stage Manager Jennifer Palange
Richie..........Peter William Dunn
Reed I...................Joe Stephen
Reed II...................Joe Albano
Reed III...................Ian Cohen
Reed IV................Dan Arsenault
Trumpet I...............Sam Dechenne
Trumpet II...............Eric Duncan
Trumpet III............Asher Siebert
Trombone I...............Seth Budahl
Trombone II.........Richard Romanoff
Trombone III/Bass....Hiroyuki Sakaba
Percussion II........Valerie Smalley
"A Chorus Line" is about an audition, about wanting --- Needing! --- a chance to live a role in front of audiences, and so it hits me right where I live. Play the first few notes of the opening vamp and my eyes fill with tears like one of Pavlov's dogs, not so much because I ever aspired to theatrical greatness but because ever since Joe Hanlon picked me out of the backstage crews at Loeb Drama Center and taught me how to write reviews, that's been all I ever wanted to do with my life: to be MY part of the theatrical experience. And as a reviewer, I empathize like crazy.
I first saw a rather tired production of it in London in 1972, while "temporarily between engagements" as reviewer, and I've seen the film that tried to freeze something that Must be Alive to mean anything, and other local productions. But now I have seen three "Perfect" productions of it. There was one out at North Shore Music Theatre, where the bio's explained that half the cast at least had been touring in the show for a dozen years or more. Then there was I think a Company Theatre production directed by a lady (Leslie Woodies) who had been trained into a part by Michael Bennet himself and toured for years before --- like Paul in the show --- when her rehearsal shoe Didn't slip she faced the horrifying question posed at the end of the show "What will you do if, from today, you will never dance again?"
And now: ENCORE!
Encore Theater Company is a Community Theater that specializes in "crowd scenes" and in making shows NEW again and in dancing --- there are Four choreographers in the company, nominated en masse for an IRNE Award last year. About the time the film version of "Chicago" appeared, Encore did that show --- which I had seen at The Colonial several times --- as a wholly New interpretation, with dance sequences that formed a loving hommage to Bob Fosse. Last year they put Busby Berkley's unison-massed tap-routines on the big stage at U-Mass Boston for "Anything Goes" --- and now "A Chorus Line".
And this show's New, too.
There's still a studied gracelessness about many of the dancers in the early cattle-call run-throughs, because many of those dancers are cut and leave the stage ten minutes or so into the show. One of those cut ("Tricia") is Sonya Worden, the director for Encore's two previous productions. She's directed here by Justin Dilley.
In the plot, a director/choreographer is spending only one day trying to cut a preliminary-cut of seventeen good dancers down to eight (four boys four girls) for a chorus-line that must look and move identically as mere background for an un-named Star. Here, sitting at a third-row desk in the audience stage-left, the Director is played by Bill Stambaugh, whose gruff, clipped bark into a microphone echoes through the bustling hall with a subtext of authority, acuity, insight, and (mostly) businesslike impersonality. Every instant of the show, everyone on that stage tunes to him, not as though, but because for this one day he happens to be God.
The tensions in the show come from the impossible conflict in the minds of every dancer on that stage: to be noticed, to stand out --- but, ultimately, to blend into a unified anonymity. One way to get to know the dancers --- the way Director/Choreographer Michael Bennet actually made the show originally --- is to make them talk about themselves, when and why they started dancing, what growing up was, who they are. Sometimes these are monologues, and sometimes they turn into songs. (Nicholas Dante shares credit for the Book by James Kirkwood because most of the life-story monologue from "Paul" was distilled out of his own life.)
Three of the girls empathize with the idea that Everything Is Beautiful "At The Ballet" --- especially turning one's back on an ugly jungle of family horror. One hoofer crows about replacing his older sister at taps-class because "I Can Do That!" One resents the humiliations of an insulting Acting-Improv class in which, for which, she felt "Nothing." One extolls her surgical search for tits and ass to rectify the no-job judgement "Dance Ten: Looks Three."
Almost everywhere in this production, the cast is alive --- empathizing with movements or thoughts with background dance, or filling the big stage with coming-of-age exuberance and sexual angst saying "Hello Twelve" hello thirteen, hello love!
There is one pair of dancers, though, who are married, partly because, though she's perhaps a better dancer, she depends on him for everything. Every other time I've seen the show, her loud, quavering, off-chord squeeks as she repeats that she-really-can't-"Sing" were unbelievable exaggerations. Here every time she again and again came to that word, her protective and supportive Husband sang the word for her! It's tiny, original details such as that (which underscored their trust and need of each other) that make an ENCORE production new, and precious.
The final confrontation is with the Director and the woman he made a star in two previous Broadway shows. They were "an item" but when he gave all his energy and attention to proving he could direct a non-musical that stopped. To emphasize the problem of the final eight fitting-together he insists she's "too good for the chorus" and sharply slaps down her every bravura stand-out move. She knows he demands of himself that he be the best at all theater has to offer, while she says maybe she's just a dancer --- who hasn't worked in two years and wants only to begin again, to get a chance, however anonymous, to have "The Music And The Mirror" once again. Here, the mirror isn't the two tall, mobile square columns that sometimes present the bare backstage bricks --- it's the mirror of the audience itself.
Everyone in this show gets a moment --- a turn, a line to shout --- and I'll bet the Choreographers Laurie Fisher, Sheryl Rifas-Shiman and Lisa Cahill might find it hard to tell which moments were theirs. Although they let everyone stand out and be noticed, the group-effort, after all, was always to blend into a seamless whole. That's why I won't tell you who "played" what; Every person on that stage, taking their uniquely different bows identically deified in identically glittering gold for the final curtain-call, Became the parts they played. And that's why ENCORE deserves to be seen.
I can't say, won't say this is my Best "Chorus Line" ever. But it's the one that's up Now. Frankly, the McCormack Theatre on the UMassBoston campus is not so easy to find, and (as I found out after the last bus to the T) not so easy to come back from. But if you love theater as much as I do, you'll find it. The company is "in residence" at UMass (and I hope that means rent-free} but theater needs ticket-sales to put up new shows, and the rumors backstage are that their next show ought to be a money-maker --- like "Nunsense" !?!?!?!.
For this show, Kyle Haugen --- who could be seen deep back stage-left conducting --- provided the excellent music, and I've tried to provide The Mirror. But we all know that the only mirror that counts is an appreciative audience.
Become one with them.