Review of A Chorus Line at the Colonial Theatre
by Larry Murray
A Chorus Line is the legendary Broadway show that has what everyone wants in a musical: great singing, dancing and a story that captures your imagination. First brought to Broadway in 1975, it scooped up just about every award there was that year, and made the fortune of New York’s Public Theatre from whose rehearsal rooms it sprang. It played what seems like forever on Broadway (6,137 performances – 14+ years!) and sent out several touring companies that found they could return to the same cities again and again because of great word-of-mouth advertising, and it was the kind of show you could see more than once.
Michael Bennett was the force that created this “behind-the-costumes and choreography” look at the dance “gypsies” of Broadway musicals. Underneath the smiling faces and upbeat steps are real human interest life stories that are little different from yours and mine. We aspire. We struggle. We perservere. We succeed. We stumble again. etc.
In workshops, Bennett drew out these personal testimonies from the dancers, and with the book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante melded them into a narrative that is refreshingly candid.
In fact, A Chorus Line was the first musical on Broadway that had characters who were homosexual, and portrayed them in a positive light, a landmark for 1970. And even though it is now 2012, one elderly gentleman just a few rows from the stage almost had apoplexy when the gay dancer Paul began to tell his story. The poor guy was upset at the actor’s candor and finally burst from his seat sputtering something at his wife, and made a beeline for the exit. He could be heard complaining to an usher as the show continued on. So you could say the show still induces some controversy, even now.
What distinguishes the Berkshire Theatre Group’s (BTG) production more than any other thing is the choreography, a melding of the original with fresh, new material that is the brilliant work of Gerry McIntyre, a BTG regular who is clearly growing by doing. If A Chorus Line revitalized Broadway back in the 1970′s, McIntryre has breathed new life into this show so that a new generation can enjoy it too.
Director Eric Hill – sprinkling some of his Tommy magic on this production – is to be credited for nurturing a true ensemble feel on stage, while keeping the focus (and spotlights) on the individual dancers. Each told their abbreviated life story, using song and words but most importantly, using dance as much as the text to convey their unique tales as individuals.The character of Mike (Matthew Bauman) is the first to do so as he sings “I Can Do That” but then adds a surprise punch with backflips and acrobatics that wowed the opening night audience. And that was just the appetizer. “At the Ballet” provided a chance for Sheila (Dana WInkle), Bebe (Julianne Katz) and Maggie (Karley Willocks) to show their ballet form. A trained eye might notice that at least a few of the dancers need to get back to daily class to maintain their form. But this is theatre, not a dance company. No portable barres on stage before the performance begins to warm up, the dancers must stretch using their own individual techniques, and what could be more authentic for this particular show!
If there is a lead in this musical, it has to be the touching Cassie (Nili Bassman) who is the overqualified professional in the story. Once involved with the Director, she suffers a lot of questioning and abuse at his hands. Bassman delivered a touching performance but seemed to be having an off night vocally.In the Chorus Line story, Paul (Eddie Gutierrez) is the gay character who relates his early life. It was very daring for such honesty about growing up gay and enduring bullying and worse to be expressed. This was all before the appearance of the ”It Gets Better” videos on You Tube. But it was just one of the many touching stories of the various dancers. Paul also has – in the musical – the misfortune of having an old injury act up. When that happens everyone is affected.
Indeed, this show business vet has consoled more than one dancer – and choreographer who depended on her or him – during my years at the Boston Ballet. Just as with athletes, injuries can always sideline even the most successful unexpectedly. In A Chorus Line Paul is rushed to the hospital to meet his doctor, which was the procedure in those days. Later in that decade dance companies began retaining sports injury specialists who were on call during rehearsals and performances to lessen the long term damage that injuries could do. Theatres have understudies, and dance companies teach each dancer several parts, part of their backup. And during a long run, the injuries can mount up rapidly.
Hill’s direction not only kept everyone safe, but also succeeded in keeping everything moving at a rapid pace. The show was tightened sufficiently to give it as an intermission-less two hour, fifteen minute production, another kind of feat and a test of an audience’s bladder control. In fact the only times there was restlessness in the audience were those few minutes when there was no dancing or singing taking place. Sort of like zooming down the highway at 60 mph until you hit a red light. Other than that, A Chorus Line is pretty much danced from beginning to end, a testament to the incredible stamina of the performers.
In the pit was the largest orchestra ever being fielded in the Berkshires, 13 musicians including the Conductor/Music Director Steven Freeman who also doubled on Keyboard. They made the most glorious live music to accompany a musical that I have ever heard in these parts, and other companies have lately been beefing up their instruments to recreate that full Broadway sound that makes a musical sound like…like, well a musical. This is a hopeful sign that the Berkshire theatre companies are continuing to aspire to Broadway quality productions, and that they come so close with such short rehearsal times always amazes me.
With that large orchestra, a cast of 19, a great score by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, A Chorus Line remains a musical gem. The Berkshire Theatre Group is fielding an enormously energetic, brash and dazzling show that you should see for yourself.
Berkshire Theatre Group presents A Chorus Line, Conceived and Originally Directed and Choreography by Michael Bennett, Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch,Lyrics by Edward Kleban. Directed by Eric Hill Choreography by Gerry McIntyre, Music Direction by Steven Freeman, Scenic Design by Gary English, Costume Design by David Murin, Lighting by Michael Chybowski. Cast: Judy-Sara Andreas, Val-Ashley Arcement, Cassie-Nili Bassman, Mike-Matthew Bauman, Mark-Giovanni Bonaventura, Diana-Natalie Caruncho, Connie-Alex Chester, Greg-Chris Chianesi, Don-Warren Curtis, Paul-Eddie Gutierrez, Bobby-Andrew Hodge, Larry-Bryan Thomas Hunt, Bebe-Julianne Katz, Al-Tim McGarrigal, Zach-Noah Racey, Richie-Neil Totton, Kristine-Margaret Wild, Maggie-Karley Willocks, Sheila-Dana Winkle. July 2-21 at the Colonial Theatre, Pittsfield MA, ABout two hours twenty minutes without intermission. berkshiretheatregroup.org