How are we made aware that the uniform and prosaic image of a “production line” folds within itself elements of priceless nuance? Can the indistinguishable members of a column of dancers challenge the impression that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? Thirty seven years and 6,137 Broadway performances after the original production of A Chorus Line opened, the Chameleon Theatre Circle presents a new staging of the award-winning musical. For those who have never seen the play awaits an invigorating production whose forthright drama is made all the more blunt in the medium-sized and unceremonious space at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre.
The play focuses on nineteen dancers auditioning for roles in a Broadway musical. Conceived by Michael Bennett, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, and Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, the show is a self-reflexive enactment of the trials and tribulations that accompany those who are captivated by the world of dance, of song, and of spectacle, and who are headstrong enough to endure its dictates, for the world of show business is harshly competitive and cruelly selective.
But the thesis of A Chorus Line is precisely that each of the auditioners is in no way a mere “figure” of a performer. Under the direction of Cristopher Tibbetts, the physical proximity of the performers to the audience in this production enhances the demand that we listen and comprehend the life-stories that motivated or almost thwarted each of the performers in their pursuit of a career in show business. This is one of the strengths of this performance and the actors execute the task wonderfully – each character abides by the choreographer’s request and recounts or plays his or her story in a viscerally present manner. The limited size of stage and hall intensifies the story-telling frame of reference and creates a live intimacy in which we the spectators are positioned as active interlocutors whose attention is expected to be as immediate and purposeful as that of the choreographer (played by Daniel McDermott) who solicits the stories from the performers.
Indeed, most of the stories reveal a childhood marked by parental neglect, social marginalization or physical features perceived as bodily defects. Val (in a winning rendition by Tara Lucchino) sings of the stark favoritism by the business toward the standardization of beauty in the number Dance: Ten; Looks: Three. Likewise, the petite Connie who laments of her lot to be of a height curtailed of its fair proportion, sings the montage Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love in a voice that is anything but fragile or dainty – Alice McGlave’s singing is sonorous and full-toned.
Whether deliberate or not, the choice of this particular play is remarkably pertinent at this moment in our economic and social circumstances. The company’s opening number is I hope I get it, with a solo of I can do that. The narratives, the lyrics, the physical relations between the characters, all portray the urgency that engulfs the candidates in their search of a job. It is not by chance that in conclusion to the characters’ confessions, Diana (Jessica Lynn) and the company sing to us What I Did for Love. Although performed charmingly by Ms. Lynn, this apologetic scene is not nearly as poignant as Cassie’s (Katie Taintor) heartrending encounter with the choreographer: her pleading for the job recognizes the hardship of the profession and the competition but is forceful in rejecting despair at having to start anew. It’s a moment that resonates deeply with our times and this production has shined a bright light on the vicissitudes of all of us who need and want to join the line.
A Corus Line by Edward Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, directed by Cristopher Tibbetts. At The Chameleon Theatre Circle, Burnsville Performing Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre, 12600 Nicollet Avenue South in Burnsville, Minnesota. June 1-17, 2012. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster’s Web site, by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-982-2787 (additional service fees may apply), or by visiting the Burnsville Performing Arts Center’s Box Office.