A Chorus Line
Stratford Festival 2016
Written by Michael Bennett
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Approximate running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes (with no intervals)
May 31 -October 23
You catch the first glimpse of dancers lining up for their big shot at the gold ring as the chords to the opening I hope I Get It ring through the packed Festival Theatre. Then it starts without warning – thunderous applause and raucous cheers of encouragement greeting the perfectly lined cast of A Chorus Line.
Somewhere behind the curtain director/choreographer Donna Feore must have been wringing her hands in glee, possibly even silently singing I Can Do That to herself under her breath. It took only a few seconds to grasp her brilliantly realized vision of Michael Bennett’s ambiguous/multi-layered musical was about to be a hit at the Stratford Festival.
Forty-one years ago the audacious Bennett, aided by some of Marvin Hamlisch’s most adventurous music and Edward Kleban’s often spicy adult-flavoured (for the times) lyrics, unveiled what was considered by many to be a revolutionary Broadway musical.
With unabashed candor it looked unapologetically at individual dancers looking for yet another shot to continue their physically and emotionally demanding careers, not as stars but simply parts of a highly regimented chorus line.
As the formidable musical director Zach (played with a wonderful mix of authority and compassion by Juan Chioran) and his assistant Larry (Stephen Cota) whittle down the hopefuls to the final female/men pairings, those revealing singular revelations begin through dance and song.
While the final line of dancers will be a tightly knit unit, what is revealed are personalized tales – tinged with comedy and drama – of past dysfunctional family lives, fear of failure, discovering and dealing with one’s sexuality and grasping the reality for one young woman that success in the business more often relies on two particular physical female attributes (natural or bought) than sheer talent. The latter is relayed through the brilliantly funny Dance: Ten Looks: Three, cheekily performed by Julia McLellan’s delightful Val.
Feore proves an accomplished master of uniting the many diverse elements of the work – from lively, oft times soulful presentations of tunes based on characters’ personal realities to energetic, pulsating dance numbers both physically demanding and emotionally draining and those aggressively pursued fantasies transporting these dreamers from scenes of domestic insecurities to wonders of the almost mythological world of ballet and beyond.
Dayna Tietzen captures the angst-ridden veteran Cassie, let down by both time and director/one-time lover Zach. He tells matter-of-factly that she is too good for the chorus, while the youngest dance hopeful Mark (Colton Curtis) coyly details his first wet dream and the 4’10” dynamo Connie (an exuberant Genny Sermonia) bemoans her lack of height.
Tormented heroines fill the stage while a male hoofer eyes the potential of being the screen’s next Troy Donahue. Others are simply exhausted by the prospect of never-ending chorus line tryouts offering meagre security in packages of months or at best years, ultimately fearing their futures.
The paradoxical reality weighs heavy on all the tortured souls – success means trading in their individuality for the glorious, glittery transformation into well-oiled anonymity.
Singling out particular performances for individual praise is an unwelcomed and difficult task for any self-respecting critic or audience member for that matter. There is no top nor bottom to the Stratford company – an almost picture perfect ensemble of singers/dancers trotting out gut-wrenching, crowd-pleasing performances in tireless fashion for more than two hours without break.
It’s been slightly more than four decades since A Chorus Line shocked, startled and delighted audiences in New York and throughout the world. Thanks to Feore, a top-notch cast and technical crew, the Stratford product of 2016 has lost none of the original lustre nor power along the way. The music remains vibrant, dramatic and comedic elements mix comfortably and multi-dimensional characters abound.
Another hugely successful Stratford musical and a classic entry for the still young 2016 festival season that earns ***** out of five stars.
Geoff Dale is a Woodstock-based freelance writer.