Last night I had the privilege of attending the opening night of A Chorus Line at the Stratford Festival. A line from What I Did for Love – “the gift was ours to borrow” – resonated particularly strongly after seeing Donna Feore’s re-imagined production. This show is a gift for the audience, the performers and the creative team. A musical that captures the desire that artists have to pursue their dreams, and the unique challenges they face as they chase their goals. It also marks the first time in over 40 years the estate of Michael Bennett has granted permission for the show to be re-staged.
This gift was bestowed on none other than Stratford’s Feore – who has proven adept at musical direction with recent hits such as Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. Presented on a thrust stage, the show uses creative lighting, set design and choreography to make the entire house feel as though they are part of the line. Presented without an intermission, the two hour production is entrancing, captivating the audience from that first powerful ’5, 6, 7, 8!’
A Chorus Line is not an easy musical to cast, requiring true ‘triple threats’. The material demands actors be able to sing and act along with tackling the complicated choreography. The numbers range from hilarious (Dance 10, Looks 3) to stirring (At the Ballet) to incredibly heartbreaking (Paul’s monologue ) and encompass every emotion in between. This need for triple threats is where Stratford shines as they’ve amassed a talented and diverse cast who sing and dance their hearts out.
While re-staging for the Festival Theatre essentially means re-imagining the show, director Feore has kept it in the same time period (the 1970s) and has remained true to the source material. Longtime fans of the musical need not fear that it will be drastically changed and instead should go in with an open mind as it is fascinating to watch the action unfold in a less linear format.
Stratford veteran Juan Chioran plays director Zach, and his command of the stage and the performers is powerful. He’s almost always visible, often at the back of the house shouting instructions at the dancers, however his more tender moments with Caissie (Dayna Tietzen) and Paul (Conor Scully) showcase his acting chops. Tietzen’s Cassie looks the part of a star dancer returning to NYC seeking a fresh start, and she has a beautiful voice and exquisite dance technique. She seemed to falter slightly in some of her more tender scenes with Chioran’s Zach, but that could partly be blamed on faults within James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book.
The entire cast is to be commended for their ability to work as a cohesive unit while embodying their individual characters. They blend seamlessly into the line one minute, and stand out the next. In particular, Scully’s Paul and Julia McClellan’s Val were standouts. Paul’s monologue is gut wrenching, delivered with just the right amount of confused trepidation and pain causing you to immediately empathize with his plight.
As Val, McClellan proves she is a star in the making. Her solo number “Dance 10, Looks 3″ could easily be played for cheap laughs, but she gives it depth while blowing the roof off the Festival theatre with her voice. Finally, Cynthia Smithers delivers a delicate intro to the show stopper “What I Did for Love” that ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
A Chorus Line is one of those rare musicals that takes you inside the world of the theatrical arts, strips away the glitz and glamour and shows you the harsh realities that exist when you’re an aspiring dancer. It’s an unforgiving industry with little to no stability, and one that people pursue out of love. That is what makes the show poignant and keeps it relevant, because anyone who has a strong love of the arts can relate to the struggles occurring on stage. It’s also what makes the finale so damn great.
As an audience member you are emotionally exhausted from the journey but when the chorus comes out in their beautiful gold costumes and performs “One”, everything falls away. This single moment can help you forget the challenges of the industry, and cause you to remember exactly why you fell in love with the arts in the first place. It was as though the entire audience let out a collective sigh of relief as the dancers commanded the stage. A career in the arts demands that you have endless passion, but it’s a love that is worth the sacrifices you make for it. ”Don’t forget, can’t regret” indeed.
When and Where?
A Chorus Line
The Festival Theatre – Stratford
On now until Oct 30th, 2016
For more information visit: https://www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/PlaysAndEvents/Production/A-Chorus-Line