By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
Photo by Jonathan Steele
The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning singular sensation, A CHORUS LINE, is now thrilling audiences at the landmark Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton CT.
With music by legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch, A CHORUS LINE opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway July 25, 1975, conceived, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. The book is by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and Edward Kleban wrote the telling lyrics. The musical received 12 Tony Award nominations and won nine, in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The original Broadway production ran for 6,137 performances, becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history until surpassed by Cats in 1997, and the longest-running Broadway musical originally produced in the U.S., until surpassed in 2011 by Chicago.
It’s the story of the struggles and triumphs of a group of dancers auditioning for a spot in an unnamed new Broadway musical. For the 17 hopeful dancers, this audition is the chance of a lifetime for a spot onstage. The show is not only a depiction of a fictitious group of ‘gypsies’ (aka dancers who move from show to show) but it mimics the real story of the lives of the working cast onstage at the Ivoryton Playhouse. It shows the heartbreak and disappointment engrained in show biz, along with those small doses of glitz and glamor, joy and elation that being chosen to perform in a show can bring.
The score, featuring familiar tunes, exquisite solos and buoyant choral songs, is played wonderfully by eight gifted musicians under the baton of keyboardist and conductor Michael Morris. Michael and his professionals produce the sweetest sounds that highlight but don’t overwhelm the vocals of the exuberant cast. As the backstage story unfolds, every character emphatically pleads to the gods of the theater – “I Hope I Get It.”
Edward Stanley* plays Zach, the director/choreographer tasked with choosing only 8 performers out of the 17 hopefuls. He asks each actor to tell him a personal story about what got them to this stage of their budding careers. Mike ( played by engaging Dakota Hoar) tells Zach that as a small boy he accompanied his sister to dance class and realized “I Can Do That!” Mike breaks out into a lively dance to show off his talents.
Sheila, Bebe and Maggie (Lili Thomas*, Kayla Starr Bryan and Liv Kurtz) beautifully blend their voices in the poignant song describing a place where, as children, they felt safe from unhappiness at home -“At The Ballet.” Charismatic actor Sam Given* plays Bobby who gives Zach a blasé, fey and uproariously delivered monologue about his escape from his dreaded home town of Buffalo.
Gifted singer/dancer/actor Natalie Madlon plays Diana Morales who tells her story about how badly she was treated by her acting teacher in the lyrical “Nothing.” To paraphrase the lyric, Ms. Madlon “reaches right down to the bottom of her soul” as she fully understands every nuance of the words and music. In the second act she once again sends chills up the spine by getting to the core of the song as she leads the chorus in one of the show’s memorable anthems: “What I Did For Love.”
In the first act finale, Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr. as Richie, bounces across the stage with an energy and explosive excitement that combines his exceptional talent a dancer with the technical and creative guidance of director/choreographer Todd Underwood.
Opening act two with “Dance, Ten; Looks, Three” (aka Tits and Ass) is Alexa Racioppi, who, as Val, brings down the house. This is one of the comic highlights of A CHORUS LINE, coming to fruition as Val has been leading us on in act one – when she laments about her flat-chested body, as the rest of the cast reflects on adolescence in “Hello Twelve.”
Act two also gives us an insight into the mind-set of Cassie, a thirty-something dancer who only wants the chance to dance in the chorus. Stephanie Genito* sings and dances “The Music and The Mirror” with an intensity and desperation that would most assuredly make the Tony-winning originator of the part, Donna McKechnie, proud to see this role played by such a talented professional.
One final “how I got here” story in act two is that of the shy Puerto Rican boy, Paul. Goaded to share his most personal thoughts and secrets, Paul’s tale is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Actor/dancer Joey Lucherini gives a superb performance as he begins his monologue highlighting Paul’s reluctance show his real self to his family and ends with us in tears of empathy and joy in one of the dramatic highlights in the show. Mr. Lucherini also struts his stuff in the finale, leading the entire cast of A CHORUS LINE in the curtain call number “ONE.”
Many cast members, including those named above, have made the Playhouse their home over the past few years and shine in this production: Schuyler Beeman*, Andee Buccheri, Cory Candelet, Amanda Lupacchino, Jared Starkey and Max Weinstein (Max is an unsung hero in the show as Larry, Zach’s assistant choreographer who keeps the company on their toes). Performers making their Playhouse debut are Kayla Starr Bryan, Matthew Carp, Dakota Hoar, Liv Kurtz, Lina Lee*, Jennifer Roberts, Edward Stanley*, Cassidy Terracciano, Lili Thomas*, Sarah Warrick and Carl Zurhorst.
Superb on-target direction and choreography by Todd Underwood underscores the fact that his talent in both categories is boundless. The show is tight and fast, the dancing exciting and fluid, and the combination of a creatively focused leader, and a dedicated and perfectly chosen cast makes for a winning show.
As for that Paul-led curtain call, it’s a stand-up-and-cheer winner. Without a doubt, “One” is the most exciting finale imaginable, and, dressed in Kate Bunce’s sparkling costumes, this 5-star cast kicks up its heals against a razzle-dazzle backdrop by scenic designer Martin Scott Marchitto. It’s the perfect way to close a really, really exquisite backstage musical.
A CHORUS LINEruns through September 2nd, 2018. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.
Additional matinee performance on Saturday, September 1st.
Tickets are $55 for adults; $50 for seniors; $25 for students and $20 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
(Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The handsome playhouse and beautiful grounds are located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.
*denotes member of Actors Equity