‘A Chorus Line’– one of Broadway’s longest running extravaganzas—just opened at the John W. Engeman Theater. Directed with finesse by Drew Humphrey, the show explores the elusive field of dreams of dancers competing for spots in a theatrical musical. Featuring music by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kieban, and the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, ‘A Chorus Line’ is a unique backstage look at a Broadway production. It is no surprise that the show has garnered a plethora of awards: Tonys, Drama Desk Awards, and even the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The plot focuses on the 17 hopeful (and desperate) young dancers who survive the first cut. Against the backdrop of an empty stage, they strut their best moves under the critical eye of the formidable director Zach (James Ludwig). The chosen ones (and there are only eight spots) must demonstrate that they can perform seamlessly in unison. Although we see Zach from time to time, for the most part he’s heard from afar, giving him an omnipotent presence. And lo and behold, resumes and publicity photos are not enough for Zach. Perhaps, driven by his own inner demons (and it will turn out that he indeed has some), he wants each dancer’s backstory. These self-revelatory monologues offer an intoxicating entrée into the hearts and the minds of the young dancers. For some, like self-possessed Mike (Eric Greengold) and Sheila (Kelly Sheehan), the poised and svelte veteran of many theatrical productions, disclosure comes easy; for others, it is a psychological striptease which peels away the exterior, exposing insecurities and the life experiences that led them to dance.
The musical is full of energetic showstoppers and you’ll be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,” sung by Valerie (Stephanie Israelson) is a humorous tribute to the positive impact that medical enhancement of her feminine attributes has had on her career.
In contrast, “The Music and the Mirror” is a dreamy interlude echoed in the floor-to-ceiling mirror in Jonathan Collins’s set. Cassie (Jessica Lee Goldyn who starred in the show on Broadway) is a former dancer who has failed at acting. Now 37 years old, she is not above begging Zach, who turns out is her former lover, for a spot in the chorus. Clad in a clingy red dress which hugs every curve, she auditions in private for Zach. Losing herself in the moment and her love of the art, it was almost as if she is dancing with her reflection, a figurative personification of her previously successful self. Goldyn’s execution and its impact are stunning.
‘One’ is indeed a singular sensation. I was particularly impressed by Cory Pattak’s lighting, which at one point bathed the dancers in multi-colors, obliterating their individuality and giving the impression that the ensemble was one big dancing machine. And bravo to Dena DiGiacinto for the outstanding choreography.
“What I did for Love,’ sung by Diana (Maria Cristina Slye) and Company is a salute to the devotion to dance or any art form, cause, avocation, or occupation which is not about personal aggrandizement, fame, or fortune, but being part of a team and doing what you enjoy most.
I have long admired the work of James Olmstead, who has done double duty as the conductor and on the keyboard in the past. He is once again at the helm and his band’s performance is flawless.
Prepare to be wowed by a non-traditional curtain call which pulls out all the stops in terms of showmanship and glittery costumes. Kudos to Tristan Raines for this sheer delight. It was then that I was reminded that ‘A Chorus Line’ is a “show within a show” in the very real sense that the actors we applauded vied for their parts and made the cut.
“A Chorus Line” runs through May 10. The Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport Village. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, by calling (631) 261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.