A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Line up every cast member of Players Club’s A CHORUS LINE from Don to Diana, throw in the in-show director and choreographer, and even the dancers who get cut in the beginning. Link arms and pull. Keep pulling until “The Red Shoes” makes its way back to theaters. Well, to mix metaphors, you won’t find a chink in this show’s armor.
Normally I would give a community theatre attempting this Tony Award winning musical a lot of respect and A LOT of leeway. No grading curve is needed for PCS’s finely polished production. But enough general gushing. It’s time to talk specifics.
Let’s start with the cast. After all, A CHORUS LINE is the epitome of an “ensemble show”. 17 apprehensive auditioners are desperate to fill the chorus of a prominent dance show which, as the domineering casting director tells them, only has 8 openings. The distress of the characters is palpable throughout, as the audition takes a bizarre turn. Especially impressive is how each actor simultaneously portrays his or her individual role, complete with unique backstory, while also working hard to blend with the group and become uniform. A great example is the lively Alison Liney, who makes the often-neglected role of Connie really pop.
The dancing is excellent. Abby Shunskis takes on the dual role of director and choreographer. While the familiar opening audition sequence is fun to watch, it is the choreography later on that really grabs attention. Shunskis and her cast do a great job with what I will affectionately rename “The Puberty Song”, with performers jumping between vibrant unison dancing and rockin’ out on their own.
At the other end of the spectrum is the delicate and smartly-staged “At the Ballet”. The addition of the three talented young girls who join their counterpart principal characters halfway through the song adds a welcome layer of depth. A CHORUS LINE is known primarily for its group numbers, but “At the Ballet” is a nice contrast to the frenzy that surrounds it, emphasized by Maggie’s (Meghan Dietzler) beautiful belt.
Terry Tracy captures the role of Zach. Zach is a straightforward director who takes great pride in his work and is easily frustrated, occasionally to the point of anger, when someone disrupts his process. Yet he has moments of sympathy as well. Tracy’s dynamic scene with Zach’s ex-lover Cassie (a solid “triple threat” Jessica Noonan) is underscored in rhythm by the rest of the cast. Zach more often is not onstage, though, and having him pace among the audience is a more interesting choice than having him confined to one spot.
The lighting, designed by Ryan Stone, is magnificent, perhaps the best lighting I’ve seen in community theatre. The numerous cues are well-placed, the gels fit the mood perfectly, and the lighting instruments are finely focused. The incredible 14-piece orchestra, under the direction of Nick Pignataro, deserves high praise as well.
Some CHORUS LINE purists may scoff at a couple things. Bobby is now “Bobbi” (Emma Bradley), and no one will mistake Kevin Dietzler (Mike Costa) or Edward Donlevie (Paul San Marco) as Italian or Puerto Rican, respectively. It’s hard to argue with the results, though. Donlevie keeps Paul’s sentimental monologue effectively restrained, making it all the more emotive at the end when he talks about his dad. Yeah, it touched me. It was like “Field of Dreams” all over again.
I was sitting at the far right of the house and occasionally had difficulty seeing Diana (Gina Tomkowich) from behind the proscenium. I imagine audience on the far left had some trouble seeing Don (Jared Paxson). Not much can be done about this, since the stage needs to fit 17 actors side-to-side, so sitting near the middle of the house is recommended.
It is nice to have everyone miked. Overall the sound balance is good, although it was a strain to hear a couple soloists singing against the rest of the cast. And if you want to get really picky, “Music and the Mirror”, while perfectly danced by Noonan, could have been a bit more aggressively choreographed.
The finale, with the gold costumes and the flashing marquee, is a powerful exclamation point to end a fantastic show. If you’ve never experienced A CHORUS LINE before, THIS is the production to see.
A CHORUS LINE
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. & Nicholas Dante
Directed by Abby Shunskis
April 25 – May 10, 2014
The Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081