When I heard New Candlelight Theatre was doing A CHORUS LINE, I started mentally counting down the days (or months, to be more accurate, since it was announced last season). NCT has proven itself in the last few years as a top venue for Broadway musicals in The First State, and A CHORUS LINE, the Michael Bennett show with music by Marvin Hamlisch, has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid.
NCT’s production did not disappoint. It’s amazing what they can do on such a relatively small stage and still maintain the feel of the Broadway stage once the lights go down. In a dance-heavy show like A CHORUS LINE, that’s no small feat; choreographer Jodi Anderson accommodated every scene wonderfully.
The show itself takes place at an audition for a Broadway show in New York City in the 1970s. The dancers are not competing for major roles, but for spots in the chorus line — the backup dancers, basically. The setting — a theater stage with actors addressing the Director, who spends most of his time conducting the audition from the back of the house — was groundbreaking when the show premiered in 1975. So were the themes and topics (not to mention the language, which still gets a reaction). The “stream of consciousness” plot revolves around the auditioners opening up to tell their stories at the request of the Director/Choreographer Zach (Bob Miller, who nails the role), who is looking to cast a couple of small roles from the line.
After a handful of dancers are cut (including NCT regulars Lindsay Mauk and Peter Briccotto, who manage to steal the little bit of time they’re given), a somewhat motley collection of dancers remain, and they’re all put on the spot. There’s Sheila (Deedee Mann,) the snarky, uber-confident beauty who watched her mother give up her own dreams of being a dancer to suffer an unhappy marriage; Bebe (Erin Waldie), the bubbly Boston girl with low self-esteem; and Maggie (Kristin Romero Sheehan), who grew up yearning for her absent father. There are Kristine (Laura Boyer) and Al (John Dingle), the awkward Midwestern woman and her new husband from The Bronx, and Connie (Nicole Mariash), the ageless 30-something. Richie (Robert Harris) was going to teach Kindergarten. Greg (Michael Kelly) realized he was gay during his first experience with a woman. Mark (Calvin Atkinson), Bobby (Achilles Inverso), and Mike (performed by Alexander Ose on the night I attended) recount stories from childhood and adolescence. And there’s Cassie (Kaylan Wetzel), who has a past with Zach and wants to return to the chorus line after a failed attempt to be a Hollywood star.
The entire company shines, both as a unit and individually, but there are few standouts: Elissa Zavodnick, as Val, commands the attention the sassy role requires, and brings down the house with the always-memorable “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” Kelly Boeckle’s Diana, who sings two of the show’s best songs (“Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”), is everything you would want in a Diana: she’s a little rough around the edges, vulnerable, and very talented. Also rough around the edges is Paul (Rick Fountas), who has perhaps the most heartbreaking story, and who alters the tone of the whole audition.
This is the A CHORUS LINE you remember, complete with references to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Robert Goulet, and a rundown 42nd Street. Yet it still seems as fresh as it ever did, and appeals to those new to the show as much as those who count it as a favorite. Don’t miss this one.
A CHORUS LINE
by Michael Bennett
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed by Bob Kelly
Choreography by Jodi Anderson
September 13 – November 3, 2013
New Candlelight Theatre
2208b Millers Rd
Ardentown, DE 19810