“This show is dedicated to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step…anywhere!” said Michael Bennet of his Tony-Award winning mega-hit, “A Chorus Line” which took ‘The Great White Way” by storm, completely changing how musicals were and would now be produced. In fact, there’s a point in the show where three hopefuls, poignantly recalling their inspiration to dance, remember how “Everything Was Beautiful At The Ballet”. Now, it can be said that everything is beautiful at Fullerton’s historic “Plummer Auditorium” with 3-D Theatrical’s amazing revival of this truly ‘singular sensation’ of a show! Produced and Directed by T.J. Dawson, Bennet’s original choreography has been skillfully re-constructed by Linda Love Simmons, while costumes for the finale were even provided by Baayork Lee (Dance Captain in the original Broadway company) and her “National Asian Artist Project”.
The epitome of “The Concept Musical” “A Chorus Line” was conceived when the legendary showman joined a group of “Gypsies” (professional dancers, so called because they travel from the chorus of one show to another,) for several late night dance and tape-recorded wrap sessions, held in early 1974. There, they discussed their lives and feelings–specifically when it came to their chosen profession and how each got their start. These tapes and the individual, very personal–and often painfully human stories they contained served as the musical’s basis, hence it is entirely fitting to state “A Chorus Line” is ’based on a true story” (–or put more accurately, ‘stories‘.) Even today, no other musical better conveys with such gritty truth, the heart of a dancer’s life than this show does.
The action commences immediately–sans an overture–at a dance audition (already in progress) for a never named Broadway Blockbuster-to-be. After initial eliminations, Zach, the Director-Choreographer, tells those remaining “There are some small parts that have to be played by the dancers I hire…I think it would be better if I knew something about you–about your personalities.” So beyond just their ability to move, he asks each to tell him (and by extension, us) who it is they reallyare. One by one, they get their moments in the spotlight–only in this context, it isn’t necessarily to strut their stuff, it’s more like a probing eye into their very souls and psyches; and every dancer has a story to tell: “I meet someone and they say to me ’Wow, you dance on Broadway! How Fabulous! You got somewhere–you’re something,“ One declares, “…I‘ve come this far and I‘m not giving up now!”
Despite this simple set-up, and given that action on stage is continuous with no blackouts, scene-breaks or intermission, contrary to what some have observed in the past, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book very much has a form, structure and plot (albeit a basic one.) The dancers begin by relating stories of their early childhood, and how dance (and dance class) inspired them; next, they in effect ’grow-up’ with “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” singing about their collective adolescences and beginnings in ’the biz”, on through to working professionally, then finally contemplations on what they’ll do once their time on the boards is done. Edward Klebans’ lyrics too, are really quite an accomplishment themselves–particularly considering he had to bring rhyme and reason to pre-existing stories–in many cases direct quotes–taken from the actual transcripts of those first experimental meetings. Joined to Marvin Hamlish’s exceptionally expressive and (when appropriate) lively music, it’s little wonder that, not only have they endured for so long, but actually continue to touch the very soul of a “life theatrical” like none other. Several numbers, “And” as well as “The Tap Combination” even manage to take the audience inside the minds of those on stage (symbolized here with a change of lights–casting the ’thinker’ in red and blue.)
Director Dawson has a remarkable flair for taking smaller, often marginalized moments and supporting characters, and turning them into unexpected (and delightfully memorable) scene-stealing moments or downright show-stopping performances. This gives his productions a fresh and very distinct originality. Such is the case here with Theresa Murray as bubbly newlywed Kristine DeLuca and Juan Guillen as her husband, Al. Murray’s take is more wound-up and excited rather than ditzy, and together with Guillen’s powerful vocals, these ‘lovebirds’ make their off-beat ‘duet’, “Sing” especially engaging. Likewise, Dawson wisely keeps the sub-plot involving Cassie–a once-featured dancer who desperately wants to ‘start over’ after a frustrating attempt at a Hollywood career, and Zach (with whom she was once involved romantically) fairly subdued until the second half. “Give me somebody to dance with…give me some place to fit in. Help me return to the land of the living,” she begs her reluctant Ex. As Cassie, Alexis A. Carra is a genuine triple threat who pulls out all the stops with her dynamic solo, “The Music And The Mirror”–adroitly ‘selling’ it with equally flawless song and dance.
Michael Paternostro as Zach, the man who is virtually running the whole show, also does a fine job with what is too often a thankless role, the majority of it only being heard as a disembodied voice from the back of the auditorium with only a few actual moments on stage. Meanwhile, Kavin Panmeechao’s ‘Paul’ provides the touching emotional centerpiece to the entire goings-on with his heart-wrenching monologue based on the real-life story of the book’s co-writer, Nicholas Dante. Occurring right on the heals of Carra’s dazzling performance, Kavin’s simple but potent oratory as he timidly clutches his dance bag like a baby clings to a blanket for security, presents the production’s second in an awesomely affecting one-two punch. Robin De Lano too, is impressive as Diana “Morales” passionately renders two of the score’s more notable tunes–”Nothing”, a less-than-happy memory of her days struggling with a less-than-supportive acting teacher at New York’s “High School Of The Performing Arts”, then later leading the cast in the iconic “What I Did For Love“.
Other standouts “on the line” include Shane Orser as the leggy and acerbic Bobby. As the focal point of “And”, he’s given the challenging task of standing down stage center delivering his comic monologue as several reveal their inner thoughts through song behind him; nonetheless, even with these frequent cut-aways, he still never loses our attention. In addition, gifted with a bonafide ‘belt-it-to-the-back-row” voice, Kristen Lamourex as the sensitive Maggie shines–and her melodic interlude “Mother, Oh, Mother” makes for one of the sweetest moments, while Anthony Chatmon III gives Ritchie a hip, funky kind of vitality and enthusiasm (–Does this guy ever have the moves!) A tip of the Gold Lame¢ Top Hat also has to be given to Chester Lockhart as Zach’s assistant, Larry for bringing new vibrancy to another frequently overlooked part. Lockhart may not have a lot of time on stage, but every time he is, he doesn’t just lead the dances–he commands them–adding still more spark to an already electrifying production.
Set in the liberated 1970’s at the height of the pre-AIDS sexual revolution, the language and subject matter can be, at times, a bit frank and therefore not easy to listen to for some; however not all masterpieces contain “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens”; this one paints its colors in starker hues. Yet it’s important to remember the dialogue was taken directly from real-life, and put in its proper context, offers an appropriate–and compelling–snapshot of popular culture circa 1975.
As a whole, 3-D Theatrical’s current production is best described by borrowing from its most recognized hit to assert, “One moment in their presence and you can forget the rest, for THIS SHOW is second best to none!” Plummer Auditorium, located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue in Fullerton California. Having opened on Friday, May 11, performances will continue through Sunday, May 27, with show times, Thursdays, Friday’s & Saturday’s at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:00 PM (with added performances on Sunday, May 20th at 7:00 PM and a matinee on Saturday, May 26th at 2:00 PM.) Ticket prices range from $28.00 through $56.00 (with special children’s prices at $22.00) and can be obtained on-line at:
www.3dshows.com , or by calling (714) 589-2770. (Student and group discounts are also available.)
Photos by Issac James Creative, courtesy of 3-D Theatricals. Special Thanks to 3-D Theatricals, David Elzer & Demand PR and the cast of 3-D Theatrical’s “A Chorus Line” for making this story possible.