Ghostlight Players Debut with A CHORUS LINE

by Walter Bender

The theatre goers in the Northeast Philadelphia area have a new theatre company to visit…Ghostlight Players. This new group has taken over the Thomas Holme Elementary School Auditorium on Academy Road for their premiere production, A CHORUS LINE. A CHORUS LINE is the famous musical about a group of dancers auditioning for an un-named show that will eventually run on Broadway. The audition takes an unusual turn, as the director asks the dancers to talk about themselves instead of the usual forms of auditions. In doing this, he (and the audience) learns about them as people as well as actors.

Cast members of Ghostlight Players' A CHORUS LINE: From Left to right: Chris Perrualt, Vanessa Turchi, Nicole Mesiano, Katie Jordan, Joe Conwell, Kristen Riley, Mary Berry, Rachel Canelli, John O'Donnell, Alana Turchi, Matt Clark, Justin Kalnas, Erika Strasburg. The production runs in Northeast Philly through October 1.

Director Ed Flores Jr. has assembled a large group of people to do this difficult show. There are 20 main dancers, the director, and a 7-piece ensemble. The choreography is the unnamed character in this show, with much of the production involving some form of dance movement. Choreographer Natalie Monari has done a very good job teaching the dancers much of the original choreography from the Broadway production, and the cast looks very comfortable with the difficult dancing. The orchestra, directed by Nicholas Raspanti, did very well with the music, never overwhelming the singers, who were not using wireless microphones (something I, as an old-school performer, appreciated.)

There were several strong performers in this cast. Nicole Mesiano as Michelle Costa did a fine job with the tap number “I Can Do That.” Erika Strasburg as Diana Morales has a beautiful voice and shows great emotion during “Nothing”, and in singing the signature, “What I Did For Love.” Durrell Griffin, Alana Turchi, and Rachel Canelli captured the audience’s heart with their rendition of “…And…”, and Kristen Riley (Cassie) did a terrific job as the former primary dancer returning to Broadway after a disastrous career in California, attempting to restart her career in the chorus. Ms. Riley is a wonderful dancer…this is one of the few productions of A CHORUS LINE in which I could say that Cassie was indeed too good to be in the chorus.

The set and lighting were nicely done, given the limitations of the venue. Four panels on stage were covered in foil to suggest a mirror, which worked very well. The only problem I had with it was that the panels should have been angled up a bit, as when the lighting hit the panels the reflected light went into the audience, creating a bit of a distraction to those sitting in that area (including your humble reviewer.) The venue’s lighting was supplemented by a couple portable trees, which provided adequate lighting for the stage. The follow spot operators needed a bit more practice as of opening night, but by the time you read this they should have gotten that practice.

As with any new production company, there were a couple bumps in the road. I am assuming there was trouble getting enough men to audition, as two of the parts that were to be played by males were cast with women, one of which the aforementioned Mike (Michelle) Costa. The character’s story involves a young male being fascinated by his older sister’s dance classes (and the problems he had being a boy fascinated with dance,) and that part of the story was lost by the cross-casting. I’m not sure what the motivation was for altering the lyrics of “Dance Ten, Looks Three”, but the choreography referring to the young lady’s anatomical region was more uncomfortable than the word that refers to the same region. And, while the individual performances were strong in many cases, there was no cohesiveness to the group…part of the subplot of this production is how the company bonds over the sharing of their experiences, and I didn’t feel the growth as the show progressed.

Taking on A CHORUS LINE to open a theatre troupe is quite an undertaking…the music is very difficult, the show is very dance-intense, and the material itself is very gritty and rough at times. Ghostlight Productions did a nice job with the show, and as the production company grows and matures they should be a proud addition to the theatre community in the Philadelphia area.

Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Ed Flores, Jr.
September 23, 24, 29, 30, October 1, 2011
Ghostlight Players
9125 Academy Road
Philadelphia, PA 19114

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