Seeing The Gallery Players‘ sterling production of A Chorus Line reminded me of two things. This musical is loaded with some of the greatest show music ever. It’s also one of the best pieces of meta-theater ever devised. It’s no surprise to be reminded as well that the show won nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.
Marvin Hamlisch’s devilishly rhythmic music and Edward Kleban’s witty, penetrating lyrics have been lodged in my synapses ever since the original 1975 Broadway production, one of the first Broadway shows I ever saw. My parents bought the cast album (and the piano score) and I listened again and again. But I had never seen another production, until the Gallery Players opened their 52nd season with it. It runs through 30 September.
While some of its cultural references are dated, the show holds up magnificently after more than 40 years. The nerve-wracking process of auditioning hasn’t changed much. Ageism and anxiety over one’s looks remain rampant. The characters’ individual tales, rooted in the life stories of real performers and here related in song, dialogue, and monologue, are just as touching, relevant, and familiar as they were in the ’70s. And the music is timelessly wonderful.
A bevy of dancers are trying out for roles in a fictional musical’s chorus line. Running the audition is creepily intrusive director/choreographer Zach (Brian Vestal). This powerful personality spends much of the show as a disembodied voice from above, putting the performers through the tough paces of muscular, demanding musical numbers. Normal enough so far.
Real casting directors, though, don’t demand their hopefuls reveal the darkest and tenderest secrets of their early lives. But through James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante’s incisive writing, Hamlisch and Kleban’s stunning songcraft, and achingly emotional choreography (reproduced from Michael Bennett’s original by Eddie Gutierrez), the device works. We’re flung into a dizzying metaverse where “real” lyrics sound alongside chanted dance-step instructions; where auditioners talk back to casting directors; where time stops while the director and his former girlfriend (career stalled, hoping for a humble chorus-line job) hash out their old baggage.
There’s talent to burn in the large cast – which includes many Gallery Players debuts, not surprising given the show’s tremendous demands on its dancers. To mention a few: Jay DeYonker as Mike impresses as a triple threat. Adrian Grace Bumpas is bubblingly funny as Kristine, with Matt Lynn as her husband Al showing off a powerful voice and great timing. Steven Rada mesmerizes with Paul’s deep-digging confession. Tara Kostmayer lights up the role of Diana, putting across two big numbers (“Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”) with a beautiful voice and a performance both glowingly charismatic and gustily real.
But there are no weak links in the cast, and the creative team is just as strong. The production superbly puts across the rhythmically complex, dance-dominated number “The Music and the Mirror,” feelingly performed by Shiloh Goodin as Cassie. The same goes for the high-concept extended numbers “I Hope I Get It” and “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.”
Throughout, A Chorus Line uniquely fuses conceptual creativity with the meat of being human. In this production, strong direction and choreography accentuate the former, while excellent performances without the benefit of amplification bring out the latter. A Chorus Line is at the Gallery Players in Brooklyn through 30 September. For tickets and info visit the website.