Signature Theatre’s “A Chorus Line” is Stylish and Singular!

By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

The cast of “A Chorus Line” at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Since I have never seen “A Chorus Line” live onstage (only the film, about which I have nothing good to say), I can only speak about the excitement and emotions I felt watching this thrillingly staged live “A Chorus Line.” From the opening bars of “I Hope I Get It” my senses were heightened, and from that moment on the elaborate staging I had done in my mind for all the years I listened to the cast album was overtaken by the sights and sounds of this elegantly spare real deal! This IS the Broadway show, but with new choreography to give a zing to those theatregoers who have seen this show many times. I enjoyed, no, loved every minute!

Trevor Michael Schmidt (Mike) and the cast of “A Chorus Line” at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Those moments were filled with terrific dancing, great singing, and an ensemble of professional dancers pouring their hearts out so that my heart was so filled, it spilled out my eyes. Let me take just a moment to give you a little background on this amazing show.

“A Chorus Line” began as an idea thought up by two Broadway dancers at a time when Broadway appeared to be dying—at least dancing shows were drying up. These two dancers took an idea they had to Michael Bennett, a well-known Tony Award-winning director and choreographer who got his start as a chorus dancer. The idea was to stage a completely ensemble show of nothing but dancers with no scenery, no costumes except the final dance number, no intermission, and no star. Eventually, after much reworking of the idea, but ending up with pretty much the same result as the original proposal, Joseph Papp agreed to open the show in his theatre complex, The Public Theatre.

Mathew Risch (Zach) smoldering in “A Chorus Line” at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

When it premiered in 1975 with music by Marvin Hamlisch, book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, and lyrics by Edward Kleban, the word on the street was that it was shattering and so devastatingly effective in its honesty of subject matter—so that even its faults could work for it. It quite simply changed musical theatre forever. What I saw on the stage of Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. was no less moving for this audience. Every single dancer in this show is a triple threat: able to dance, sing and act in pretty much equal measure. It’s hard to single out highlights, but leaving the dancers for a minute, I must talk about the orchestra. Ten marvelous musicians led by the incomparable Jon Kalbfleisch, conducting and on keyboard, underscored every nuance of the songs and dances and quite literally felt as if the dancers’ feet would take flight!

And the dancers. Can we talk? Pull up a chair! First, this show is choreographed by Denis Jones and directed by Matthew Gardiner. The audience immediately begins to “get it” when Mike (Trevor Michael Schmidt) literally flies through the air, twisting and turning and performing dance steps I’ve never seen before! Mr. Jones must have worked overtime on that one! But wait, there’s so much more…with ”And” performed handsomely by Bobby (Ben Gunderson), Richie (Phil Young), Val (Adena Ershow), and Judy (the adorable Corinne Munsch), we begin to get what’s happening here.

I don’t have enough space to discuss each dancer (there are 26 of them, after all!), but I must make special mention of Val (Adena Ershow), who is hilarious in “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” and Sheila, played by Maria Rizzo. Sheila got huge laughs throughout the evening but was greeted by stunned silence when she was not selected by Zach as one of the final cast members. This feeling is precisely what the collaborators and writers must have been after. Ugh. It’s a tough business and it IS show BUSINESS, not show ART, folks.

The cast of “A Chorus Line” in full costume at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

However, when that dance line forms behind the lighted line in the deck of the stage and all the dancers emerge from the wings in glittery costumes to reprise “One,” show business now seems very appealing and all the angst and tears are forgotten, at least for a few moments. The totally sold-out house stood, roared, stomped their approval, and so did I!

Performance and Ticket Information: “A Chorus Line” runs now through January 5 and running time is 2 hours with no intermission. Signature Theatre is at 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA. For tickets and information contact SigTheatre.org or call 703-820-9771.

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