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A Chorus Line
Conceived and Orginally Directed and Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed by Gayle Seay
Choreographed by Dena DiGiacinto
STAGES St. Louis
September 14, 2022

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
STAGES St. Louis

A Chorus Line is a classic musical that’s oddly very much of its time while also being, in another way, ageless. It’s a show that ran for many years on Broadway and has been performed by countless theatre companies at many levels around the world for over four decades, but while elements of it are very tied to 1975, a good production is still as fresh and engaging as if it were a brand new show. STAGES St. Louis is closing out their 2022 season with just such a lively, thoughtful, thoroughly entertaining production.

The last time I saw this show was in a somewhat “opened up” staging at the Muny, and while I enjoyed that production, I think the show fits better in the smaller, more intimate setting at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, where STAGES is based. The set, by James Wolk, is extremely simple. For most of the show, there’s just a bare stage backed by mirrors, with a prominent line taped on the floor in front. While there are some excellent technical aspects to this production–including dazzling lighting by Sean M. Savoie and excellent detailed period costumes by Brad Musgrove–the heart and soul is the performers. The show is about the cast, and the act of casting in itself, as a group of dancers of various ages and stages in their careers vie for eight roles in the chorus of an upcoming Broadway show. Based on a series of interview sessions with real performers, the various stories are relatable especially to anyone who has been involved in “show business” at essentially any level.

The audition is a framing device for a series of vignettes and songs, highlighting various aspects of these dancers’ lives, from their desire to get a job (“I Hope I Get It”) to how they discovered dancing (“I Can Do That”, “At the Ballet”, etc.), and more, leading up to the well-known, glitzy finale “One”. Some characters are more prominent than others–like Cassie (Lauralynn McClelland), a one-time featured performer whose career has stalled and is hoping to start over in the chorus, much to the consternation of her ex-boyfriend Zach (Danny McHugh), who also happens to be the director of the show. There’s also the determined Diana (Megan Elyse Fulmer), who leads two prominent songs, including the classic “What I Did For Love” as an ode to the life of a performer; the tough-talking veteran dancer Sheila (Dana Winkle), who is concerned about “aging out” of the chorus; and Paul (Omar Garibay), whose heartbreaking and intensely personal monologue mid-show is one of the dramatic highlights. While there is a story and a premise, with the end goal of finding out who ultimately gets those coveted chorus roles, the real center of the drama is on the characters and their very human stories of artistic and career ambition, personal triumph and tragedy, and more.

The show is also very much about dance, and Dena DiGiacinto’s vibrant choreography is well-danced by the entire ensemble, and it’s fun to watch the opening number without knowing the characters’ names yet and trying to guess who is going to make the cut based on how they dance.  Once the “line” of final contenders is chosen, as we get a chance to hear their stories, we also see them perform, and it’s an impressive cast all around. Standouts include McClelland as the down-on-her-luck but determined Cassie, who impresses with dazzling dance moves on her showcase number “The Music and the Mirror”. There are also memorable turns from Garibay as the sensitive Paul, Winkle as the bold Sheila, Caleb James Grochalaski as the eccentric Bobby, Ronan Ryan as the wide-eyed youngest dancer Mark, Sarah Chiu as the amiable Connie, and Fulmer as the devoted Diana. Everyone does an excellent job here, with fun comic moments particularly from Leah Hofmann as the somewhat flighty Judy and Ashley Klinger as the bubbly Kristine, whose main problem is that she can’t sing. McHugh also does a convincing job as the professionally demanding but personally conflicted director Zach. Every single member of the “line” deserves our time, and our attention, rewarding the audience with expertly crafted performances and strong dancing.

A Chorus Line is one of those “essential musicals” that’s important to see if you love musical theatre. It’s a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize winner that still speaks to the human condition nearly fifty years after its debut, even though it is also very much of its time in terms of the way its characters speak and articulate the influences on their lives. STAGES St. Louis has presented a production that lives up to the show’s reputation and conveys the spirit and energy of the piece with style and depth. It’s a crowd-pleaser as well, and a thrilling theatrical experience.

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis is presenting A Chorus Line at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center until October 9, 2022

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A Chorus Line
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Direction and Choreography by Denis Jones
The Muny
July 29, 2017

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo: The Muny

A Chorus Line is a legendary show. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner that ran on Broadway for 15 years, which was a record for a long time. It’s somewhat odd to think that such a “small” show had achieved such big success, but it shouldn’t be that strange considering its human drama, memorable score, and timeless appeal, especially for anyone who has at any time been involved in theatre and especially dance. The Muny is almost too big a venue to put on this show, really, although this latest production, the show has been “opened up” in a few ways that, for the most part, are successful and add to the classic appeal of this show.

The premise is fairly simple. A group of dancers are trying out for roles in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway show, and the director, Zach (Ivan Hernandez) interviews them to find out more about their backgrounds, what dance means to them, and why they want this job. Most of the dancers are veteran performers for whom this is a “make or break” type of situation career-wise, although there are a few younger dancers in the group who are looking for their big breaks. Even though the roles are cast near the end of the show, the real drama here is not as much about who gets the job and who doesn’t. What’s most interesting is who these people are, and how they got to where they are now. There’s a small semi-romantic subplot involving one of the dancers, Cassie (Bianca Marroquin), but the real drama, and the real romance, is about the stage life itself. The show’s most famous number, “What I Did For Love”, for instance, isn’t about a romantic relationship, but rather about the dancers’ relationship with their art. This show is, with all its drama and occasional critiques of the business, still essentially a love letter to the life of a performer. It has a St. Louis connection as well, as a few of the dancers involved in the original talk sessions that led to the development of the show were from here, and the few references to St. Louis in the show are met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The show here at the Muny has been modified slightly to fit the enormous Muny stage and to include the Muny’s youth ensembles, with varying degrees of effectiveness. For the most part, the additional ensemble members in some scenes do succeed in helping the show fill out its space, although sometimes the inclusion of the kids’ ensemble seems unnecessary. For instance, it’s interesting to see the dancers tell the stories of their childhood experiences aided by the addition of a child performer as a younger version of the older actor, but this works better in some situations (“I Can Do That”) than in others (“At the Ballet”). There are other ways the show is opened up, as well, such as through the use of video projections designed by Nathan W. Scheuer, which are especially effective in Cassie’s (Bianca Marroquin) featured number, “The Music and the Mirror”.   The set, by Paige Hathaway, is fairly simple, and that works for this show, and Andrea Lauer’s costumes are appropriate for the characters and the mid-1970s setting of the piece. There’s also extremely effective lighting by Rob Denton that helps maintain the overall atmosphere of this production.

The cast here is excellent, and each gets a moment to shine, although some more than others. The entire company is strong, excelling in singing and acting as well as dancing. The standouts for me are Ian Paget as Paul, whose “showcase moment” is a heartbreaking monologue near the halfway point of the show (there is no intermission), as well as Holly Ann Butler as the tough-talking Sheila. There’s also Madison Johnson as the somewhat flight Kristine, who has a problem with singing, highlighted in the song “Sing”, a clever duet with her husband and fellow auditioner Al (Rick Faugno). Other standouts include Marroquin as the determined Cassie, Sean Harrison Jones as the athletic dancer Mike, Evan Kinnane as the socially awkward Bobby, and especially Hannah Florence as the dedicated dancer Diana, who shines leading the cast in “Nothing” and “What I Did For Love”. The whole ensemble is strong, though, displaying energy and style in the production numbers and solos alike, and performing director Denis Jones’s dynamic choreography well, especially in the show’s iconic closing number “One”.

A Chorus Line is, to use a somewhat overused term, iconic. it’s one of those shows that everyone who loves musicals should see at least once, and even though the show has been modified slightly to fit the huge stage and play to the enormous audience at the Muny, its essence is preserved. It’s a celebration of music, dance, and humanity, well represented in this fine production.

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting A Chorus Line in Forest Park until August 4, 2017.

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