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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
A Chorus Line

Kiss today goodbye,
The sweetness and the sorrow.
Wish me luck, the same to you.
But I can't regret
What I did for love, what I did for love.

— Diane
The question of why the 1975 musical A Chorus Line doesn’t wear out its welcome after almost forty years of sustained popularity was answered in part on opening night at the Paper Mill Playhouse where this acknowledged ground-breaker has been given a stunning production. Aside from the opening night performance that was designated to honor and celebrate the musical’s late composer Marvin Hamlisch (1944 – 2012), it included fifty former cast members from 1975 to 1990 who joined the current company following the curtain calls in a reprise of the finale. This was an evening to remember also for the way this production constantly thrilled us under the direction of Mitzi Hamilton.

Hamilton, who joined everyone on stage for the finale, was part of choreographer/director Michael Bennett’s original taped group of dancers. She was the inspiration for Val and played that role in the London production and later on Broadway. But it's the work that she did in inspiring sensational performances from every member of the company that all future audiences will experience during the run.

There is no question that this Chorus Line continues to give us a rare glimpse into the hearts, minds, and even the bodies of the dancers we take for granted in show after show. It works best when we can feel responsive to the passionately shared personal life-stories of dancers. When all the stories jell, and when all the dancing excels, it becomes an emotional experience that has no equal in American musical theater. Even for those who don’t feel much rapport with the difficulties that mark the life of the dancers, in show business called “gypsies,” this musical goes way beyond feeling like a music and dance-propelled group therapy session.

Amazingly, the funny/sad stories weave as effectively through Hamlisch’s best score (with dynamic lyrics by Edward Kleban), as do the dance sequences, all of which have a dramatic thrust. So much has been written about this show l that I will just share the one that really lifted this production into the extraordinary.

Except for the impact of the original production, I don’t recall since then ever having been so wrenchingly involved before with the difficult relationship between Cassie ((electrifyingly danced by Jessica Lee Goldyn) and former lover choreographer Zach (a wonderfully blunt and callous, replete with a distinctly British accent Martin Harvey). Goldyn, who played Val in the 2006 Broadway revival ( review) is possibly more heartbreakingly earnest than anyone else I've seen in this role as the dancer who once wanted to become a star and now wants desperately to get this job in the chorus (“I’d be proud to be one of them”).

The success of this A Chorus Line, perhaps even more than the last Broadway revival, has to be measured by the effectiveness of its individual performers as well as its collective brilliance. Tall, shapely and a knockout looker Rachelle Rak comes on strong, funny and desperate as the “almost 30” Sheila. Gabrielle Ruiz certainly put over the slightly insecure tennis shoe-tapping Diane, but sent the hit ballad “What I Did for Love,” soaring into the rafters.

It’s difficult to say exactly why each of the twenty six characters seems to have a more persuasive and psychologically compelling presence. Let’s attribute it to sheer talent, and to director Hamilton who knew how to bring Michael Bennett’s original direction and choreography and the conception of the characters as written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, into high relief. The use of overhead mirrors has also never been more effective as they are in reflecting the dancers in the classic setting as designed by James Dardenne (based on original design by Robin Wagner). Bravo to sound designer Randy Hanson for not distorting the sound of the singers or the terrific orchestra under the direction of John O’Neill.

It is worth noting that among the alumni who participated in the finale were Scott Allen, Kelly Bishop, Priscilla Lopez from the original production.

For a song list, see See Curtainup's previous Paper Mill Playhouse review.

A Chorus Line
Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book By James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Restaged by Mitzi Hamilton (based on Original Direction and Choreography by Michael Bennett

Costume Coordination & Additional Design: Gail Baldoni (based on original Costume Design by Theoni V. Aldredge)
Lighting Design: Adapted Julie Duro
Music Director: John O’Neill
Cast: Ashley Arcement, Carleigh Bettiol, Kevin Boseman, Kyle Brown, Mike Cannon, Jennifer Cordiner, Kevin Curtis, KC Fredericks, Julia Freyer, Jessica Lee Goldyn, Maertin Harvey, Jordan fife Hunt, Chris Klink, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Brian Letendre, Mark Myars, Jeffrey Pew, Rachelle Rak, Amanda Rose, Gabrielle Ruiz, J. Manuel Santos, Alexzandra Sarmiento, Grant Thomas, Jessica Vaccaro Kkyle Vaughn, Karley Willocks.
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes without intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
(973) 376 – 4343
Tickets: ($34.00 - $110.00)
Performances: Wednesdays at 7:30 PM; Thursdays at 1:30 and 7:30 PM ; Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 1:30 and 8 PM; Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM.
From 10/03/12 Opens 10/07/12 Ends 10/28/12
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/07/12
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