In the theater world, a performer who is a true triple threat – one with the ability to perform at the highest levels as an actor, singer, and dancer all at the same time – is rare. Luckily, Signature Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner (Signature’s Passion and Billy Elliot) and Tony Award-nominated Choreographer Denis Jones (Broadway’s Tootsie, Signature’s Crazy for You) managed to find an entire stage full of these unicorns, gifting the audience with an intimate production of the iconic musical that will leave you feeling as if each of the characters is a personal friend who you desperately want to get the job.
There’s not much of a plot in A Chorus Line. The book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante takes place at just one audition where in addition to dancing their hearts out, the hopeful performers are asked to also pour out their souls in order to land this show and keep their Broadway dreams alive. The miracle of this show is that as each of the wonderful people before us tells his or her story, the story within a story becomes riveting, as the characters draw out painful relationships with mom or dad, each other, and with themselves. The production is performed in one act and is a little more than 2 hours long and it went by in a flash. Each story is captivating, and Signature’s small theater really does connect the audience to the actors in a way few other productions have been able to replicate.
The first thing you are likely to notice about this show is just how good the dancing is. Even for dance-heavy shows, this one has a lot of dancing and the actors need to be able to not just move but sing well at the same time. The ensemble numbers, especially the iconic “One” are perfectly choreographed and performed and individual songs really let the performers shine. In particular, Emily Tyra as Cassie and Trevor Michael Schmidt as Mike somehow manage to perform outrageous feats of dance while singing songs that would make most singers breathless. Michael Bennett’s original choreography for the show is considered so integral to the storytelling that the producers at Signature had to get special permission from Bennett’s estate to reimagine the show with new eyes. They’ve done an admirable job adapting the choreography to work with Signature’s smaller stage while still keeping the look and feel of the original work.
The music for the show by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Edward Kleban, is the stuff of musical theater legend and includes “What I Did for Love” and “Hello, Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love,” an ensemble piece that allows many characters to tell snippets of their story within the context of the song. Two standout singers are Samantha Marisol Gershman as Diana and Kayla Pecchioni who plays Maggie. Both have soaring voices that fill the theater, hitting notes that seem impossible with ease.
The singing throughout this production is good of course, but what really pulls Signature’s A Chorus Line over the edge from good to great is the acting. On a bare stage with no props, each of these actors inhabits the characters they represent, creating an emotional connection with the audience that is evident in the length of applause following each song.
Despite references to popular 1970s actors as if they were popular today (Bon Goulet anyone?) and some throwback to 1970s fashion in the costume design by Sarah Cubbage, A Chorus Line manages to remain as fresh and contemporary as it was when it premiered nearly 45 years ago. The themes of discovering who you are and what you want from life resonate as strongly today as ever and I suspect will be just as strong in another half-century.
High kick on down to Arlington’s Signature Theatre to see their new production of the iconic story that takes you behind the glamour and glitz of a Broadway show to the heartbreak, hard work, and sacrifice that propels the people behind the shows we love to watch. It’s worth the trip to see what they do for love.
Running time: A little over 2 hours with no intermission