Groundbreaking Musical at Arvada Center
Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 13, 2017
Is it possible for a musical to turn up now, looking even more vibrant and exciting than when it was the toast of Broadway 40 years ago? Yes! The Arvada Center continues its run of providing excellence to Colorado theatregoers.
The show’s director, Rod A. Lansberry, has produced or directed more than 100 productions. When, oh when is he going to get it right? Just about always! “A Chorus Line” is a marvel. Lansberry does have help. Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck’s success choreographing or directing more than 40 shows is evident as she has the dancers performing at their peak. There is evidence of work of the show’s original director Michael Bennett, but she has personally provided most of the current production’s terrific dancing.
In the summer of 1975 an unusual musical opened on Broadway. For years the backbone of New York shows had been the singers and dancers who were highly entertaining, but not the stars. This changed when some Broadway dancers hosted some workshops about their efforts. Performer Michael Bennett became involved and took over the effort. The dancers’ personal stories were put into a format which ultimately became “A Chorus Line.” Bennett went on to direct the Broadway production, with Bob Avian as co-choreographer.
The book was by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicolas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Response to the show was electric and immediate. It tells of dancers auditioning for an upcoming Broadway production. The tough director Zach puts the wannabee performers through a series of tryouts. The group is narrowed down to 17 dancers, of which only four males and four females will be selected.
Zach asks the finalists to tell their stories, why they want to dance, where they come from, and anything they want to talk about. The results are an intriguing two hours of incredible dancing and soul-searching memories. Stephen Cerf is excellent as Zach, the director and choreographer auditioning the potential performers. Jean-Luc Cavnar-Lewandowski is also very good as his assistant, Larry. They are both talented performers, and keep the action moving.
The finalists tell their stories. These are not heart-warming Hallmark Cards family tales; but are looks at the dancers’ feelings as outsiders in society, or success yet to be obtained, and of unrequited love for dance. Some male dancers were tormented in coming to terms with their sexuality. Some of the tales are too long, but most are riveting. The same can be said for the entire production. After hearing such gut-wrenching personal stories and seeing such brilliant dancing, there is a late-in-the show lag when too much chatter takes too long to introduce one of the show’s most memorable songs, “What I Did for Love.”
Many of the songs have become Broadway classics, including “One,” “What I Did for Love,” ”At the Ballet,” and “Hello Twelve.” Interwoven with the dancers’ stories is the past romance between director Zach, and Cassie, one of the auditioning dancers. A highlight is Cassie’s breath-taking, “The Music and the Mirror.” The “mirror” is used frequently as a backdrop to reflect the dancing brilliance. Cassie, played by Dayna Tietzen, has the largest role of the group, as her relationship with Zach is an integral part of the show.
The original “A Chorus Line” ran in New York City for 6,137 performances – the then-longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has been seen worldwide, and was made into a movie in 1985. Unfortunately, the movie version lacked the incredible spark a live performance can provide. When I saw the original Broadway show, I was impressed. I was more impressed this season with the current presentation on stage in Arvada.
This is more than “One Singular Sensation.” It is a two-hour display of brilliant talent. The current production in Arvada is every bit as thrilling as that presented on Broadway in 1975.
A Chorus Line
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through October 1, 2017
Arvada Center’s Website