One of the longest running Broadway shows ever is dancing its way into the hearts of Stratford audiences this season. Reimagined 40 years after its debut, this Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning production has equal amounts of humour, heartbreak, and dazzling choreography as it did back in 1975.
A Chorus Line places the audience right in the middle of a Broadway audition as 17 people fight for a chance to be cast in the chorus. Throughout the course of the auditions, Zach (Juan Chioran), the Choreographer/Director, asks to get to know them better in order to make a decision. Each character begins to reveal their unique, sometimes troubled, pasts and the different ways they became passionate about dance.
James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book is as relevant as ever. Not only do performers understand the competitive nature of audition processes, but those from all careers can recognize the intense risk involved in trying to land a job you are so passionate about.
It is a simple story about the inner workings of a Broadway musical made dynamic by allowing the audience a look into the minds of the performers who constantly put themselves on the line to achieve their dreams.
We get a wide variety of characters from Cassie (Dayna Tietzen), a former solo star begging for another shot, to Paul (Conor Scully), who had a heartbreaking and troubled childhood. All stories are different and give us a rare glimpse into the lives of the performers.
Marvin Hamlisch’s and Edward Kleban’s music and lyrics get infectious quickly and have the ability to stay with you for days. Musical director Laura Burton makes the songs exciting to witness on the Stratford stage. Those iconic opening bars of “I Hope I Get It” are exhilarating and keep the energy level high all the way to the oh-so-satisfying finale of “One.” Kleban’s lyrics perfectly capture the fears, doubts and nervous nature of the performers.
The lyrics and score bounce from playful comic songs like “Sing” to soft numbers like “At the Ballet,” which not only highlight the stories of specific characters, but also establish a collective feeling of their love for performance. What is most impressive are the intricate montages that begin with “Hello Twelve.” It is a layered multi-sequence of stories and smaller numbers that discuss puberty, teenage experiences and budding sexuality that showcases how these performers grew into the people they are now. It is a true testament to the skill of Hamlisch and Kleban as a duo.
As an ensemble, this cast is sensational at delivering those huge toe-tapping numbers while also grounding the show with its emotional anthem “What I Did for Love.”
Donna Feore’s decision to use the thrust stage of the Festival Theatre is a perfect fit as it is large enough for those big numbers, but also has the intimate vibe that allows the characters to discuss their lives. We become a witness to their auditions while Michael Gianfrancesco’s mirror design has us glancing at our reflection on stage, implicating us into the space.
Feore’s direction and choreography maintains the strong iconic images originally conceived by Michael Bennett. The ending of the opening number with the performers holding their headshots in front of their face is bone chilling. In addition, the finale’s unified and dazzling formation shows us the glamour of performance, as the cast become identical dancing machines. However, the show makes sure that we never forget who these individuals are.
The costumes have a 1970s flare with an assortment of colour. Zach’s black and white ensemble and Cassie’s red dress not only stand out from the cast but also highlight the previous relationship they shared. The golden top hats and coattails for “One” and Michael Walton’s stunning bright lights bring this production to an astounding conclusion.
A Chorus Line is a hit after all this time, proving that audiences will continue to embrace its combination of intimacy and spectacle. You will probably be leaving this show with Hamlisch’s music stuck in your head for weeks to come.
A Chorus Line plays at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 30. For more information, visit stratfordfestival.ca.