This is not to say that A Chorus Line does
not bear the heavy weight of familiarity. No one in 2009 enters the
theater without knowing the whole story of how it was created out of
interviews very much like what we see on stage. Everyone in Auburn
knows that the late Thommie Walsh was the original Bobby and that his
crack about suicide in Buffalo being redundant was made about, um,
another upstate city. Everyone knows that every character, despite
being rooted in actuality, veers toward type, and we know most of the
words of every song, especially, the ultra-saucy, “Dance: Ten; Looks,
Three.” But when the line comes together in the last act, all that
personal anxiety and insecurity welded together in perfect cohesion, we
still can hardly believe it.
MGR artistic director Ed Sayles
reputedly auditioned more than 2,000 candidates for the 19 roles, a
wider net than original director-choreographer Michael Bennett cast for
the 1975 production. And we can see the effects. As with great opera,
we can remember a dozen other performers in the same roles, and the
current cast has to exceed what we expect. They do.
Just for kicks: Merry-Go-Round’s A Chorus Line celebrates the joys of dance.
Diana (Megan Jimenez) has two of the
biggest numbers, the first act’s “Nothing,” about the comic inability
to summon up manufactured emotion in a method acting class, and the
plangent “What I Did For Love,” in some ways the anthem of the whole.
Contrasting excellence, first witty then heartfelt.
The central narrative, which we learn
only gradually, is about the former relationship between the often
brusque Zach (Richard B. Watson) and the over-the-hill star Cassie
(Elizabeth Earley). Cassie wears scarlet, and Zach keeps bullying and
humiliating her, and so even that rare person who has never seen the
show before knows something’s coming. For 75 percent of the show we’re
only getting Zach’s offstage voice, which Watson nicely modulates. He’s
going to make some brutal decisions, but Watson’s Zach keeps signaling
his concern for the rejected and also that he’s worth recovering
Earley’s Cassie is extraordinarily
vulnerable, while nonetheless strong enough to shoulder all the
disappointment she’s taken. Her big dance solo, “The Music and the
Mirror,” is all that a choreographer-turned-playwright like Bennett
could ask for: a heart-wrenching self-expression that reveals character
and drives plot.
What follows is, if anything, even
better. In the company number “One” Zach and Cassie are quarreling in
front of all the dancers, where we learn that there are accusations on
both sides, and maybe their affair was really choked off by
misunderstanding. While there is more fire in this exchange than any
other part of A Chorus Line, that’s not what makes it
hair-raising. In a capsule of what makes the chorus the chorus,
everyone else is practicing a routine, affecting to be listening. With
Solomon Weisbard’s spooky lighting, evocative of an Erté print, they
still define the scene from which they are withdrawing. As things are
happening simultaneously, we can never spell out what this is supposed
to be, but we see that the work of the chorus overrides the deeply felt
human conflicts, and that Zach and Carrie will be absorbed into it.
All the players with many lines or solos
put individualizing touches on familiar characters, none more than
local boy Todd Lattimore in Thommie Walsh’s role as Bobby. The others
cannot be jealous when Lattimore gets a huge but justified ovation at
Flame-haired and Juno-esque, Kate
Marilley’s Sheila, the seen-it-all cynic, commands the eye from the
moment she enters the stage, never more than her trio, “At the Ballet,”
with Bebe (Anne Marie Vick) and Maggie (Synthia Link). Bosomy, gorgeous
Cameron McLendon as Val never got a “Looks: Three” evaluation in her
life, but her “T’n’A” number is supposed to stop the show, which it
It takes skill to show that you don’t
have any, which is what Andrea Davey does as doting wife Kristine, who
can’t find the pitch in the “Sing” duet with husband Al (Ralph
Meitzler). Matthew Rickard plays the tragic Paul, wounded by the shame
of life’s choices before he turns his ankle and leaves the company.
Jennifer Long, as statuesque Judy, becomes the ditz with commanding
ability. Adam Lendermon, as haughty Greg, tells us how he accommodates
unwanted erections. And Neil Totton as Richie brings a welcome touch of
Africa to a show that’s mostly about white music.
Marvin Hamlisch’s score, not only his
best, is his prime contribution to be listed among Broadway greats.
Mark Goodman’s excellent musical direction, with fully 10 players in
this pull-out-the-stops production, gives justification to MGR’s claim
to be “Broadway in the Finger Lakes.” In what has been a
recession-defying summer for the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, A Chorus Line has been the top hit. What few tickets are left won’t last long.
This production runs through Saturday, Sept. 5. See Times Table for information.