This one’s from the heart. And oh, is The Muny’s seventh presentation of “A Chorus Line” special.
Virtuoso director-choreographer Denis Jones has lovingly remastered the groundbreaking classic into an unforgettable theatrical experience of spellbinding moments and stirring musical numbers.
“A Chorus Line” has endured as the gold standard of musicals for 42 years because of its unvarnished truth and exhilarating immersion of song and dance.
Dare to be different, be who you are, pursue your passion and dream big were the themes that struck a universal chord in 1975.
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The show’s strength lies in its simplicity and intimacy, not in its spectacle. On a bare stage, 17 dancers audition for a musical, with only eight chorus spots available.
Director-choreographer Zach asks about their lives, why they wanted to dance. As they reveal what events shaped them, their vulnerability, pain and determination emerge.
We see their sweat, their guts, and are captivated by their pursuit of not just glory, but the opportunity to do what they love.
Their touching and humorous anecdotes gave a face to those whose job is to blend in, their skill and grace important components to the art form.
Some may consider “A Chorus Line” a relic of the past, rooted in a different era, but its timeless message resonates for any generation.
Based on Jones’ work at The Muny since 2012 and his deserved Tony nomination for “Holiday Inn,” I can think of no one better to restore this landmark show’s luster.
The dance, of course, is spectacular. Jones has added flourishes to the legendary director-choreographer Michael Bennett’s innovative work, which remains vibrant.
In an unprecedented and striking addition, he provides another dimension to the cast’s hopes and dreams. The Muny youth ensemble appears as characters’ younger selves in certain numbers.
The technique is employed when the athletic Sean Harrison Jones nimbly taps through “I Can Do That” as Mike. His eager youth image joined him in energy and precision.
The wistful “At the Ballet,” sung by Holly Ann Butler as Sheila, Bronwyn Tarboton as Maggie and Caley Crawford as Bebe, becomes even more moving as little ballerinas demi-plie and releve in their leotards at the bars.
That technique was used judiciously in a few songs, but all delivered a lump in your throat response. Some purists might find it obtrusive, but on The Muny stage, the risky move succeeded.
Jones’ reverence for the material and willingness to try a fresh approach makes a difference. The creative team has polished this show into a gleaming gem, breathing new life into a musical theater behemoth that means so much to so many.
The cast projects pure joy, no doubt inspired by this show at some point in their lives. You can feel the emotion and ebullience, palpable from the fervent opener, “I Hope I Get It” to the poignant ballad “What I Did for Love.”
Music Director Ben Whiteley’s orchestration of composer Marvin Hamlisch’s sublime score is sensational, and he gives lyricist Ed Kleban’s clever phrases their proper emphasis.
In 1976, the acclaimed critical and commercial hit won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and nine Tony Awards, out of 12 nominations. The show ran from July 25, 1975 to April 28, 1990, for 6,137 performances, which is now the sixth longest running show in Broadway history. Before it was eclipsed, it held the record for 14 years, from 1983-97.
So, you have the weight of a theatrical juggernaut — it really did change everything — to consider. The first production at The Muny was in1981, its previous one 2002.
In tackling the challenge 15 years later, Jones made sure the same emotional heft that made us fall in love with the characters the first time is apparent and a revelation for newbies.
What was daring back then isn’t as shocking now, as many attitudes have changed in the 21st century. Yet, characters disclose their private thoughts in candid conversations so genuinely that it doesn’t seem dated.
Paul’s painful past is still powerful when Ian Paget delivers his signature monologue, raw and real.
This endearing cast’s individuality is evident, demonstrating they are not carbon copies of the originals. Their humanity comes through, hearts on their sleeves noted. The paean to teenage angst, “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” is as funny as ever.
United as dancers, bonds forged, they eventually become “One,” like every dancer in a chorus does time after time: Justin Prescott as Don, Sharrod Williams as Richie, Sean Harrison Jones as Mike, Victor Wisehart as Greg, Ian Paget as Paul, Evan Kinnane as Bobby, Rick Faugno as Al, Drew Redington as Mark, Holly Ann Butler as Sheila, Bronwyn Tarboton as Maggie, Caley Crawford as Bebe, Bianca Marroquin as Cassie, Madison Johnson as Kristine, Mackenzie Bell as Val, Hannah Florence as Diana, Jolina Javier as Connie and Kiira Schmidt as Judy.
In addition, Ivan Hernandez plays Zach firmly, both concerned and stern. John T. Wolfe capably plays his assistant Larry.
Impressive solos include Bell’s comic turn as irrepressible Val in “Dance: Ten, Looks Three” and Marroquin’s mesmerizing showstopper as desperate Cassie in “The Music and the Mirror,” among them.
Madison Johnson of St. Louis, as vocally challenged Kristine, and Rick Faugno, as her husband Rick, are sweet together in their duet “Sing!”
The Muny’s unique spin included spotlighting the performers on the LED screen, with exceptional video design work by Nathan W. Scheuer.
The mirrors were a dramatic and necessary effect, and the sentimental childhood snapshots rotating on the screen played up the grown-up realities of following your goals – all noteworthy aspects.
Paige Hathaway’s sparse scenic design suited the show, as does Andrea Lauer’s modest costume designs, with Rob Denton’s lighting used effectively too.
“A Chorus Line” does not have an intermission. Its flow never sags, and its impact remains far-reaching. Still the best finale ever, with Jones’ “42nd Street” at the Muny last summer a close second.
Since 1978, I’ve seen this show eight times, and I can never remember all the dancers who make the cut. That is a tribute to these performers, how we root for each of them, we want them to get this job.
But we won’t forget what they did for love, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
This brilliant production elevating this iconic material made me downright giddy, and those memorable melodies are evergreen.
There is a remarkable local connection to the original, with 14 of the 19 dancers whose stories shaped this show having once danced at The Muny, including the Tony-winning co-book writer Nicholas Dante. (Read your program, check out the BND website for articles).
How many more hopes and dreams will be ignited as people leave this sixth show of the 99th season?
“Love is never gone, As we travel on, love’s what we’ll remember.”