We just completed the opening number. The very large ensemble of 23 sang I Hope I Get It as they danced the combination for Big Time Director Zach and his assistant Larry. We saw them dance in small groups across the floor, throwing every ounce of passion and drive into the routine as they pray for a spot in the chorus. None of them have a name, but rather a number, and Zach slowly calls 17 of them forward. The remaining six are cut, and the lucky finalists stand in a line.
As the final few chords of I Hope I Get It play, the auditionees walk forward and strike the ending pose right at the foot of the stage, holding their headshots in front of their faces. We know nothing about these individuals other than their clear talent, and suddenly the entire audience is put in the seat of the casting director as we begin to learn (judge) about what exists past the smiling photos.
Porchlight Music Theatre presents A Chorus Line
Directed by Brenda Didier, A Chorus Line breaks apart an audition process for an upcoming Broadway musical. The director, Zach (Richard Strimer) is looking for eight dancers – four women and four men. However, unexpectedly to the auditionees, they will not be simply just dancing for this director. Zach already knows they have talent, and while they will be expected to dance and sing, he wants to get to know the individuals behind the stage names and numbers – who are they, and why do they want to dance?
With book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Edward Kleban, A Chorus Line is an emotional journey full of twists and turns as we start to unpack the many roadblocks we all face on the quest to meet our dreams – some hopeful, and others heartbreaking. The musical features hit songs including I Can Do That, At the Ballet, Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” One, and What I Did for Love.
A musical about an audition for a chorus line would be nothing without the dance numbers, and Choreographer Christopher Chase Carter fills the production with pieces that almost become events in themselves through the precision and movement.
One is a number that most have likely heard at one time or other, and this piece is certainly a sight to see live. Each of the auditionees have black top hats, and make one long line that consumes the entire length of the stage. Scenic Designer Kristen Martino creates a fairly minimalistic set, and one of the more striking features is a wall at the back with panels that turn to create one large mirror. When they do, like in this particular number, the lights reflect, and the stage suddenly feels so much larger and more extravagant. No longer are we witnessing an audition, but something that feels more like a fully realized Broadway number. The image is almost magical with the reflecting colorful lights and choreography – with each dancer hitting the same, precise move at the exact same moment. The entire musical is about these performers fighting for their dreams, and Didier and her team have collaborated to infuse that energy into these beautiful and fantastical moments.
Full of Heartbreaking Honesty
The road to success as an artist is rarely easy, and certainly never straightforward. When Zach asks the auditionees to share with him the individuals behind the numbers and headshots, we see a physical resistance occur for each performer. As the truths slowly reveal themselves, it becomes clear why they wish to hide behind the masks, which adds further depth to the storytelling.
At the Ballet offers one of the first windows into the backstory of Sheila Bryant (Erica Evans). She spends much of the beginning hiding behind an attitude and her beauty, but when Zach finally encourages her to open up, we witness the retelling of a heartbreaking past full of abandonment. However, the few moments of reprieve that existed in young Sheila’s life were ballet, and as Evans sings of those memories, it is easy to see the hope and light that the art offered her character. As Sheila starts to dance, we see the emotion of the memories begin to come to life as Evans performs a gorgeous ballet number that we now understand to be the dream that helped her through her childhood.
The Music and the Mirror offers the big window into the character of Cassie Ferguson (Laura Savage) – a woman who thought she finally found her way into a big-time dance career, only to find herself exactly where she started. Savage has an exquisite belt that elicited cheers from this particular audience, and Didier and her team collaborate to take the number to an even stronger level. Lighting Designer Denise Karczewski utilizes the mirrors again to fill the space with reflections of colorful light, and Savage dances across the space with movements full of grace and beauty. This is a number that so cleverly combines the technical elements with the choreography to help us as an audience feel the brutal honesty and pain in this dancer who just wants to do what she loves.
This writer has seen a few productions of A Chorus Line in her lifetime. However, packed with emotional honesty and jaw-dropping choreography, Didier’s A Chorus Line is something intimate and special, making it different in all the best ways.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Terrell Armstrong, “Richie Walters;” La Mar Brown; “Roy,”/understudy “Richie,” “Bobby” and “Larry;” Grant Carriker, “Al DeLuca; Liz Conway, “Bebe Benzenheimer;” Clayton Cross, “Greg Gardner;” Danielle Davila, “Tricia”/understudy “Diana” and “Maggie;” Erica Evans, “Shelia Bryant;” Drew Tanabe, “Bobby Mills;” Alejandro Fonseca, “Paul San Marco;” Joe Giovannetti, “Frank”/understudy “Mike,” “Mark” and “Greg;” Luke Halpern, “Tom”/understudy “Paul,” “Al” and “Don;” Taylor Lane, “Judy Turner;” John Marshall, Jr., “Don Kerr;” Maggie Malaney, “Lois”/understudy “Judy,” Shelia” and “Bebe;” Chloe Nadon-Enriquez, “Kristine Urich DeLuca;” Jenna Napolitano, “Vicki”/understudy ”Connie,” “Val” and “Kristine;” Kaimana Neil, “Mark Anthony;” Laura Savage, “Cassie Ferguson;” Aalon Smith, “Maggie Winslow;” Richard Strimer, “Zach;” Adrienne Storrs, “Diana Morales”/understudy “Cassie;” Ayana Strutz, “Connie Wong;” Wade Tischhauser, “Larry”/understudy “Zach” and Matthew Weidenbener, “Mike Costa;” Natalie Welch, “Val Clark;”
Brenda Didier, director; Christopher Chase Carter, choreographer; Linda Madonia, music director; Katie Beeks, production manager; Bob Kuhn, costume designer; Kristen Martino, scenic designer; Robert Hornbostel, sound designer; Danielle Davila, female dance captain; Wade Tischhauser, male dance captain; Samantha Treible, wardrobe supervisor; Casey Wood, wardrobe assistant and Mary Zanger, stage manager.
Running through May 31, 2019
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 6:00pm
Running Time: 2 hours, without intermission
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn St.
Chicago, IL 60610
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.