What I Did for Love
A Chorus Line is a true story from the 1970s: Dancers, who want to nail this audition so much they can taste it, reveal their personal lives to the director in hopes of getting a part in the chorus. Now on the Festival Stage in Stratford, A Chorus Line has it all – poignant stories, amazing dance, beautiful songs and a powerful orchestra.
Director Zach is auditioning dancers for a Broadway show, eliminating groups as the show progresses. In hopes of getting to know what makes them tick, he asks each dancer to come forward and tell a personal story. Note that this is 1975 and this sort of questioning probably wouldn’t be allowed today. Some of the dancers are happy to reveal their pasts, while for others it dredges up uncomfortable memories.
In past productions of A Chorus Line, I found these stories dark and depressing. It seemed as if all dancers were angst-filled, carrying too much baggage. But, thanks to Donna Feore’s direction, this production is much lighter – I feel like these young people have overcome their difficulties, put their torment behind them, and are ready to move forward, albeit realistically.
A Chorus Line demands true triple threats. While excellent dance skills are a must, performers must also sing and act. Outstanding dancers are included in the opening scene, some of them to dance badly, so that they are immediately cut. My first thought of seeing the likes of Jason Sermonia on stage for only a few minutes is – what a waste! But then, he is one of the many understudies who will no doubt be called into action over the season because of the high dance demands of this production.
Because it’s a chorus line, you aren’t supposed to pick out stars, the chorus line all works together as one singular sensation. But in this production of A Chorus Line, there are standouts. Julia McLellan stops the show as Val, when she sings Dance: Ten; Looks: Three, an ode to the glories of plastic surgery. With McLellan, we know that Val knows that changing her body to get a job is wrong, but what the heck – it’s working. McLellan is a true triple threat with comedic skills to boot. The audience is seeing a rising star – McLellan is in her first season at Stratford.
Matt Alfano as Mike, is another standout, telling his story with realism. He’s the tough guy who ends up in dance, and doesn’t like being teased about it. Alfano’s dance moves are incredible.
Aryn Mackie as Sheila, the sarcastic, 30-something dancer shows us the tougher side of Broadway. And while she is jaded, Mackie shows how Sheila still loves to dance and it is more than just a job.
Coltan Curtis, another newcomer to Stratford, gives us a very honest Mark. His comedic skills show when he tells about his childhood gonorrhea scare.
Stephen Cota is perfect as Larry, the assistant to the director, and Juan Chioran strikes fear as the overhearing director, Zach, even when he can only hear his voice from the back row.
The late, great Marvin Hamlisch wrote beautiful music for this show: At the Ballet and What I Did for Love are heart-wrenching ballads. The orchestra is powerful with rich, full sounds – such a treat to hear a full 18 piece band.
The show has a real 1970s look and feel, starting with the wide range of clothing items that dancers wear to an audition, through to the concerns that Broadway is dying.
The finale is breathtaking, when the chorus line returns after a very quick change into their golden costumes. For any musical theatre fan, this is a must-see.
A final note: This production has no intermission (interval), so be prepared for long sit. If you leave the theatre, you are not likely to be re-seated, as there is no appropriate lull in the action, and you may end up watching it on a TV screen in the lobby. To be honest, there is so much going in this show, that I certainly did not miss the break. Maybe only the Festival Theatre’s bars’ coffers will miss the interval.
To see a video of A Chorus Line, visit Stratford Festival’s website at: https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/PlaysAndEvents/Production/A-Chorus-Line
A Chorus Line continues in repertoire until October 30 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Members of the company in A Chorus Line. Photo by David Hou.
A Chorus Line
Conceived by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed & Choreographed by Donna Feore
Musical Direction by Laura Burton
Produced by Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 30 to October 30, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson