Musical: “A Chorus Line”
Group: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Daily except Mondays through July 3
Tickets: From $15 to $55; contact 314-821-2407 or www.stagesstlouis.org
Story: It’s 1975, and two dozen dancers gather on a bare stage, where they audition for a Broadway musical. After a number of them are eliminated following the initial tryout, the remaining applicants are asked by Zach, the director, to talk about themselves and their motivation for getting into such an unstable and unappreciated profession. Their background autobiographies become as much a part of their audition process as their dancing skills as Zach and his assistant, Larry, go about the process of winnowing down the participants to the four men and four women who will constitute a chorus line for their upcoming musical.
Highlights: What better show is there to celebrate Stages St. Louis’ silver anniversary in 2011 than this Pulitzer Prize-winning work devoted to the ‘gypsies’ who toil in artistic anonymity for the chance to express their passion? No musical in Stages’ illustrious history has been performed more than “A Chorus Line,” which in 1988 was the first company presentation to play to a sold-out audience at the Reim Theatre and is the first main–season presentation to be performed in three separate years (including 2000).
This time around, “A Chorus Line” already is virtually sold out for the first two weeks of its month-long run, and doubtless will fill the remaining seats once word gets out about the superb job director Michael Hamilton and choreographer Kim Shriver have done in recreating Michael Bennett’s original musical staging, direction and co-choreography.
Other Info: Bennett based the record-setting musical on a pair of workshops in which dancers discussed their motivations for performing. In collaboration with writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante (a dancer himself), composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban, Bennett’s examination of the auditioning process opened in 1975 and went on to become the longest-running show in Broadway history before finally closing in 1990 after 6,137 performances. It’s still the fourth-longest running show ever on the Great White Way, a box-office and critical sensation that won nine Tony Awards in 1975, including Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Direction and Best Choreography.
This newest effort by director Hamilton and choreographer Shriver at Stages is remarkably tight, an impressive achievement in how to most judiciously utilize the cozy confines of the Reim Theatre stage for maximum effect. Considering that initially there are more than two dozen players on stage, and even after the initial cut some 18 or so remain, it’s quite an achievement that the performers don’t bump into each other on the diminutive stage while enacting the numerous ensemble scenes.
David Elder captures the military precision and emotional distance of Zach, instilling initial fear and temerity in the gypsies until he gets them to open up and talk about themselves as part of the audition. His somewhat strident dialogue with Cassie, Zach’s former lover, is a bit more emotional than previous renditions I’ve seen, but he effectively conveys the power of the distant divinity who rules the realm of the stage.
Jessica Lee Goldwyn is quite convincing as Cassie, the dancer who eclipsed the chorus line to become a solo star who shone brightly for a while before fading back into the cosmos. Her affecting rendition of “The Music and the Mirror” tells in poignant fashion her desire to return to what she loves most, the ability to express her artistry through her dancing.
Kimberly Wolff is alluring as the aggressively sexual Sheila, who eventually reveals her own vulnerabilities. William Carlos Angulo delivers a powerful performance as the quiet and thoughtful Paul, who painfully recalls his understanding of his gay sexuality and the reaction of his religious, Puerto Rican parents. Jessica Vaccaro brings out the spitfire personality of Paul’s friend, Diana, while Vanessa Sonon declares how cosmetic surgery brought her recognition in the comic number, “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three.”
Others smoothly handling their roles include Leigh Wakeford as the flip and flamboyant Bobby; Sean Patrick Quinn as the gay and debonair Greg; Jeffrey Scott Stevens and Hilary Michael Thompson as the macho Italian-American Al and his ditzy wife Kristine; Laura Taylor as the gawky Judy; Christopher Rice, Jeffrey Pew, Leonard Sullivan, Laura Oldham and Michael McGurk.
The cast performs smoothly to the musical direction of Lisa Campbell-Albert and the orchestral design of Stuart Elmore. Mark Halpin provides the functional set, Matthew McCarthy the complementary lighting and Brad Musgrove the costumes that reflect the personalities of various characters.
Opening night was an endurance test of sorts, as a welcoming proclamation from the mayor of Kirkwood stretched the one-act production into nearly two and a half hours. “A Chorus Line” remains a precise statement about the passion that drives performers to pursue their artistic goals, a musical perhaps best appreciated by people who know first-hand the grueling process of auditioning for each role they play, and both the exhilaration of selection and loneliness of rejection.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.