They say a really good musical leaves you with music and lyrics playing in your head; A CHORUS LINE is one of those musicals. However, The Eagle Theatre version has the rhythm section resonating affectionately on your chest as you glide, sort of dancing your way to your car as well. I have always thought of A CHORUS LINE as the epitome of a hit Broadway musical. I’m sure there will be some who will disagree with me; it’s probably generational, but that’s to be expected. There was a time when all musicals had to have happy endings and the songs may have had nothing to do with the story. You can thank OKLAHOMA for changing that tradition; it was the first musical where the songs moved the story along. And you can thank the likes of Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse for seeing that dance took an equal role in a musical, along with the music and the songs. Hence: A CHORUS LINE and others like WEST SIDE STORY.
If I say it, will it be true? No, but I had to say it. Hearing those songs again, that reverberating, still beautiful and unforgettable music and lyrics combining with the happy tapping of dedicated feet brought chills to the nape of my neck with each new number.
A CHORUS LINE certainly was a big deal in its day. It was the first mega hit on Broadway. It made those theatre aficionados swoon the same way that theatre goers swooned over LES MISERABLES (that paved its way with firsts) as it became a mega hit on Broadway, and of late, as did the film. These two very different musicals, as all good theatre does, shows us our inner selves. Both shows do that extremely well, just using a different subject matter.
The Eagle Theatre ensemble was not only extremely talented in acting, but in singing and in dancing. This a very important point–that A CHORUS LINE is an ensemble show. As such, the actors/dancers moved constantly, eerily as one, but that is as it should be. It stands to reason that “a chorus line” must move as one, but at the same time is made up of individuals. We are all different; some of us more different from others. Now, I know there were a couple of non-dancers in the ensemble. Do I care? Not really. It adds to the “difference.” Dancers over time like any athlete develops muscles differently than others who do not dance regularly. That’s why basketball players don’t look like football players and swimmers don’t look like mountain climbers. However, the efforts on stage were real and played with as much heart as anyone who would audition. It didn’t distract, but added the right touch of reality found at any audition.
The Eagle Theatre’s A CHORUS LINE is so well-directed, with fast-paced, high-energy choreography—with so many new and different moves, the size of the stage didn’t matter. You see, the theatre was not built with a terribly large stage–certainly not Broadway-size. You can cut down on the number of original auditioning dancers, but you still need space to dance. Director Ed Santiago and Choreographer Renee Chambers-Liciaga laid down some incredible moves with the actors/dancers that amazed us all. And, of course, they made it their own creative vision.
I found my eyes glazed over more than once and glued to the stage, mesmerized by the dancers in sync–even out of sync on purpose. Like a singer who can sing, pretending she can’t sing. Crazy, yes? Or a dancer, pretending he can’t dance? A delightful moment with the married couple (the DeLucas) where Al is finishing Kristine’s sentences. It’s such a tough number it has been cut out of most versions I have seen. John Jerbasi (Al) and Emily Weitzel (Kristine) pulled it off beautifully. The entire show was a success. Nothing was off. Oh, a mic went dead. One dancer’s pants looked too large for him, but those problems are easily fixed by next show–so minor to even mention. The worse thing about the show is the one thing no one can do anything about (besides the small stage) is that if you live anywhere but south New Jersey, it’s a bit of a drive. It’s always well worth it to me.
I came to the show with my wife, daughter and son and we each had a different favorite number. Now, I have always liked “Dance: Ten; Looks:Three” performed by Val (Heather Grasso). Ms. Grasso did more with that number than I have ever seen in any production. Of course I was sitting very near the front and could see every little look. That’s not just good acting, that’s great acting. Unfortunately, those in back weren’t treated to every nuance, but even so, the performance was excellent nonetheless. My wife is a fan of “What I Did for Love” sung by Diana (Kelly Boeckle) and Company that was equally terrific. Diana is a favorite character of mine and so “Nothing” also hits my list. My son liked Cassie’s (Erica Scanlon Harr) “The Music and the Mirror,” and my daughter, “At the Ballet” sung by Sheila (Lauren Kerstetter), Bebe (Jennie Knackstedt), and Maggie (Jessica Lynn Evens). Musical direction by Tom Abruzzo was outstanding as usual.
I thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s performance; I didn’t mean to leave anyone out. I thought every performance was worthwhile and excellent. I’d be repeating myself all night and searching for more superlatives than I have in my head to name everyone.
This marks the best musically, best acted, best choreographed, best directed, best sound (music), best lighting and best produced A CHORUS LINE I have ever seen. Maybe I should delete all the rest and just leave these last three lines. Go out of your way to see this wonderful show at The Eagle Theatre.
A CHORUS LINE
Written by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante
Music composed by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed by Ed Santiago
Choreographed by Renee Chambers-Liciaga
Musical Direction by Tom Abruzzo
Jan. 18, 19, 24, 25, 26; Feb. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 – 8pm
Jan. 27; Feb. 3 – 3pm
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton, NJ 08037