A star search is reborn

  A classic Chorus Line at Theatre by the Sea
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 9, 2010

HATS OFF The cast of A Chorus Line.

A Chorus Line is quite a heartfelt love song to musicals and the hoofers in them. Theatre by the Sea couldn’t open its summer season in Matunuck with a more fitting tribute to what it does so well. It runs through June 20.

A painter or a writer can dabble or scribble away alone in a garret, and their work can eventually be discovered and appreciated long after they’re gone. But a dancer without an audience is a sad, solitary figure.

This wonderful musical is not just a tribute to the dancers who soldier on anonymously in chorus lines, it’s a spotlight illuminating what we never see: those high-kicking individuals. The show presents an audition, immediately cut down to 16 dancers competing for eight slots, four “girls” and four “boys.” In the course of two intermissionless hours, they not only dance — a lot — but also talk about what brought them to wanting this job so much.

Created and originally directed in 1974 by boy genius Michael Bennett, it was based on a midnight-to-noon collective interview with 22 dancers aspiring to Broadway glory. One of them was Mitzi Hamilton, who has restaged the show for Theatre by the Sea.

Broadway audiences fell in love with the original production. Among its awards were not only nine Tonys but a Pulitzer for drama. It ran on Broadway for a record-making 15 years. The book was by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban; and it was co-choreographed by Bennett and Bob Avian.

To the young aspirants in A Chorus Line, dancing is more important than stardom, though the latter is always dreamed of. The opening ensemble number, “I Hope I Get It,” grabs us right away with their aching need for validation — as well as for a job. That’s followed by the solo “I Can Do That,” in which Mike, played by an overly earnest Jonathan Hoover, details copying his older sister’s dance lessons when he was four. Similarly, “At the Ballet” describes another typical route to falling in love with their life’s work; it’s danced and sung by three women (Caroline Cuseo, Meghan Glogower, and Holly Laurent).

Epitomizing their passion for dancing at the expense of individualizing themselves is Cassie (Aimee Turner, Theatre by the Sea’s producing artistic director in her first role here). A decade before, Cassie was the girlfriend of Zach (Tom Berklund), who is conducting the audition. Back then he had wanted her to do only featured dance roles, to be as ambitious as he was. Now 32, she has no more ambition than to step anonymously, and happily, into a Broadway chorus line.

Turner certainly captures our attention and creates a sturdy personality for the determined Cassie, and her voice is adequate for her lengthy solo, “The Music and the Mirror.” But the elaborate dance routine in which she shows her stuff for Zach has been dialed down choreographically, heavy on poses and stationary movements rather than the virtuosic abandon that the character intends.

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