A CHORUS LINE
Oh man, I am such a sucker for musicals. And Michael Bennett, who originally directed and choreographed A Chorus Line off and then on Broadway in 1975, knew just how to grab suckers like me. There’s no overture, no exposition. The show opens right in the middle of the audition, the director/choreographer Zach barking out instructions as the dancers frantically try to learn the combinations and then, in groups of boys, girls, and mixed foursomes, quickly dance for ten seconds or so until the next group is hustled on. The dynamism and desperation are established before you have a chance to get settled in your seat. The singing is in broken phrases: “I really need this job ...”; “God, I really blew it ....” And the dancing is exhilarating.
Royal City Musical Theatre chose A Chorus Line for its 20th anniversary show and there really couldn’t be a better choice. This paean to the passionate inner life of musical theatre and the soldiers in its ranks—the chorus—perfectly reflects the ideals of RCMT, a unique organization that produces just a single show every year at its home in New Westminster: always a large-scale Broadway musical, always impeccably produced by a professional team, this year once again directed by the company’s artistic director Lloyd Nicholson and its regular choreographer, Valerie Easton, the best in the city; always with a big, tight orchestra (19 pieces this year) under the direction of James Bryson; and always featuring a talented cast of semi-, pre-, or aspiring professionals plus two or three Equity principals. It’s a formula that almost always results in a terrific product and this year is no exception.
Although the characters in A Chorus Line are dancers, the show is not so much about their dancing as about their dreams. And they’re not big dreams—this is not Funny Girl (“I wanna be a sta-a-a-ar!”). It’s a Sixties musical (1975, when the Vietnam War ended, was the real end of Sixties culture) that celebrates the vitality of youth and the passionate desire to break away from the dreariness of bourgeois family life and the oppressive conformity of institutions (like high school) into some form of personal liberation that also partakes of the communal values of the Sixties. Dancing (and singing and acting) equals transcendence; it’s romantic and escapist—you become someone else, you lose yourself in the music, movement and drama—and the chorus provides the opportunity for solidarity and communion. No bourgeois individualism here, comrade!
Ironically, the characters’ dreams are expressed mostly through song and monologue. The dancing itself is secondary, and that’s a good thing in this production. The acting and especially the singing are very strong in this cast; the dancing less so. This is nowhere more evident than in the one extended solo number, Cassie’s “The Mirror and the Music.” Sara-Jean Hosie has solid dramatic chops and a terrific belting voice, but Easton has clearly choreographed the number for a competent dancer, not the great dancer that Zach (a very authoritative Milo Shandel) keeps telling Cassie she is. Appropriately, the strength of this show’s dancing is in the choral numbers.
But I don’t want to carp. I loved this production and all the people in it. For a show about dancers it has a lot of great songs: “I Can Do That,” “At the Ballet,” the poignant “Nothing,” the dynamic celebration of the awfulness of adolescence, “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” the big dramatic number, sung beautifully by Shira Elias, “What I did for Love,” and the signature tune, “One.” There’s not a weak link in the large company, all of whom deserve mention: Jennifer Neumann (and her beautiful voice), Kaila Maitland and Jack Barradell (a handsome couple who do a great job with the witty “Sing!”), powerful dancer Daren Herbert, adorable Anna Kuman (“Dance Ten, Looks Three”), dance captain Claire Wardle, Neil Aspinall, Adam Charles, Jeff Deglow, Amanda Fell, Andrew Haydock, Kevin Kreisz, Aron L’Oste-Brown, Laura McNaught, Keri Minty, Jaclyn Nishi, Joel North, Joanna Pastorek, Nicol Spinola, Dimitrios Stephanoy, Brett Trach, and Benjamin Wardle.
They’re living the dream. And I’m jealous.