Through October 30
A CHORUS LINE Festival Theatre/Stratford Festival
By Augustine Warner
In the vast expanse of Stratford’s Festival Theatre before a packed house, “A Chorus Line” kicks off with dash and flash, an amazing 18 minutes of dance.
Director and choreographer Donna Feore has a startlingly good cast to work with, product of Ontario’s educational system, the theater industry and years of amazing musical productions in Stratford.
Of course there were also hundreds of dancers who showed up for open auditions in Toronto and Stratford.
Feore enhances the effect by skipping the intermission, two hours of on-stage action and the music from the eagle’s nest far above the performance area.
“A Chorus Line” is a product of a time and a place, just as gay liberation and AIDS were to hit.
That may be why designer Michael Gianfrancesco chooses to have Zach (Juan Chioran), the show within a show’s director, in classic bell bottoms.
If you don’t know the story, Zach is casting a musical, never named and with the stars never named.
Instead, he’s casting the chorus, those “Broadway Gypsies” who make musicals work, the people who are auditioning here.
Zach is doing something different, not just checking the dancing in some amazing demonstrations of skill as they learn production numbers, watched by Zach and Larry (Stephen Cota), as they trim the ranks of dancers in half and then bring them out for their stories, readying for another cut in half.
Gianfrancesco and Feore chose one of those bare audition stages, backed by giant mirrors which spin around to expose the brick back wall of the performance stage with a thin light across the stage for the auditioning chorus dancers to stand behind.
There is no hiding on this stage, with the computerized lighting exposing everything the dancers do, in the often bizarre rehearsal costumes dancers wear.
Local native Michael Bennett built the show around actual interviews of dancers in a workshop, talking about what they had gone through to get on that Broadway stage.
These are tales of desperation to get there and to stay there, as time and steps wear away the legs and the knees and new faces and legs appear at auditions.
It’s the nature of the business that these are all great dancers, the actual dancers and the characters they play and we never understand how Zach makes the decision on who will stay and who will pick up their dance bags and go.
Bennett, book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, musician Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban saw the story in the backups, the gypsies who frame the story and dance in a way show leads don’t and probably never could.
Interestingly, when it comes to the classic close of the show, Chioran is up there kicking with the best of them.
In a time when “Hamilton” dominates Broadway, with its multi-racial creators and performers telling the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, it’s hard to believe how White and straight Broadway was perceived to be, not that many years ago.
That’s why it’s interesting to see the racial mix in the script and the cast, whether Black or Latino or White, young and old, aging or just off the bus at the Port Authority or once involved with Zach, Cassie (Dayna Tietzen).
That’s one of those classic stories, the dancer pulled out of the chorus for parts and eventually off to Hollywood where she learns she can’t act.
Eventually, she turns up at this audition, aging and burned out by the vagaries of show business and in hopes of getting back on the stage in the chorus.
It’s a reverse of “42nd Street,” where the character leaves the chorus and takes the final curtain Opening Night as a star.
While there are the stories of the dancers, many just tell their stories.
Some sing and dance them, especially an amazing Cassie, with “The Music and the Mirror.”
There’s also Val (Julia McLellan), with “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” and a wonderful Diana Morales (Cynthia Smithers) and company with “What I Did for Love.”
Nicholas Nesbitt is there as Bobby, the stand-in for Bennett with his horrible tale of growing up in Buffalo, considering suicide and finding it redundant.
It’s the dramatic variation on the inevitable local news story of some great national or international event and finding the local person who was there, like the local woman wounded when a Pope was shot in St. Peter’s Square.
That’s Bobby on the stage telling one version of growing up in Buffalo and fleeing for the bright lights of Broadway and character immortality.
See “A Chorus Line,” sit back and watch two hours of an amazing show.
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