FLYING HIGH A Chorus Line follows dancers separating themselves from the crowd.
The ensemble dancers in a big Broadway musical are meant to function like one seamless, glittering organism, with no one dancer drawing attention from the others or from (perish the thought) the stars. But though each of the dancers has braved similar rigors to make it into this business — blisters and aches, grueling rehearsal schedules, minimal job security, and a career arc that generally touches down by age 40 — each dancer has also weathered a distinct human drama or comedy to claim a place on stage. Revealing the individual in the Everydancer is the design of A Chorus Line, Michael Bennett's 1975 musical love letter to Broadway and to, as he put it, anyone who has ever "marched in step." Donna Drake restages Bennett's original direction in a tight and satisfying production with a fine live orchestra at Maine State Music Theatre, in Brunswick's Picard Theater.
Throughout A Chorus Line, a group of 25 dancers contend for just eight positions in the chorus. This kind of audition probably ranks among the most harrowing of job interviews: For hours, these dancers learn new routines on-the-spot and then perform them, surrounded by their competition, for a barely seen director — Zach (Curt Dale Clark) — who from beyond the stage lights scrutinizes their movements, bodies, faces, and even personalities. The required art, athleticism, and psychological stamina is staggering, and this production's excellent ensemble is adept at both making it seem easy (as great dancers must) and letting us understand how hard it actually is. In front of a wall of upstage mirrors, these dancers leap, falter, grin through their teeth, and, ultimately, are either cast or dismissed.
As the audition progresses and Zach asks the dancers to "introduce themselves," characters emerge from the synchronized smiles and steps in asides, songs, and monologues, and MSMT's performers flesh them out with humor and sensitivity. On one hand, for example, there's Mike (Netanel Bellaishe), a firecracker Italian-American whose can-do machismo took over his sister's tap lessons. From elsewhere in the city, there's Bobby (Sean Bell), who with a wry, WASP-y deadpan tells of staging a "Frankenstein musical" while growing up in the Upper East Side. Older Sheila (Suzanna Dupree) wears an armor of laconic innuendo; spunky Diana, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, loathed the touchy-feely acting exercises in her performing-arts high school; Mark (Jeff Heimbrock), the youngest dancer, candidly recalls his first wet dream.
The dancers reveal not just their varied character types, but pasts and traumas. The hardened Sheila opens up and softens poignantly as she describes escaping her troubled home life in the song "At The Ballet," which becomes a beautifully sung trio with Bebe (Morgan Rose) and Maggie (Allie Pizzo). A more comedic hang-up comes from breezily confident Val (Kelly D. Felthous), who proudly sells us on the ego- and career-transforming powers of breast and buttocks augmentation. More emotionally, the quiet Paul (Nicky Venditti) finally talks about a teenage life in and around Times Square that he would rather forget, in an affecting monologue.