Saturday, February 6, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

A Chorus Line
Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Originally Co-Choreographed by Bob Avian
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Produced by Richard Mazda
Directed by Tom Rowan
Choreographed by Geena Quintos
Music Director: Evan Zavada
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/4/16  

The book for this musical was derived from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers, known as "gypsies," including eight who appeared in the original cast. A Chorus Line opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. Producer Joseph Papp moved the show to Broadway, and on July 25, 1975, it opened at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6,137 performances, closing on April 28, 1990. The production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning nine: Best Musical, Best Musical Book, Best Score, Best Director, Best Choreography, Best Actress (Donna McKechnie), Best Featured Actor (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress (Kelly Bishop), and Best Lighting Design. The show also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. When it closed, A Chorus Line was the longest running show in Broadway history. The 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on October 5, 2006, closing August 17, 2008, after 759 performances and 18 previews. That production was directed by Bob Avian, with the choreography reconstructed by Baayork Lee, who had played Connie Wong in the original Broadway production. The revival was nominated for two Tony Awards: Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Charlotte d'Amboise).

Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of A Chorus Line winning the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1976, Richard Mazda has produced this most excellent tribute to the popular, moving and memorable musical. Tom Rowan, the author of the book A Chorus Line FAQ, directs the production and an extremely talented cast has been assembled to give modern audiences a glimpse into the life of chorus line dancers struggling to get their first break or fighting for one last job before they are considered too old to dance. Along the way, we are introduced to the individual journeys many of these dancers took to get here. A number of the stories are quite moving while others are very funny ("Imagine me a kindergarten teacher!"). Seventeen dancers in all are competing for 8 slots: four boys and four girls.

If you own and have listened to a CD of the musical numbers in A Chorus Line, you don't need me to refresh your recollection. You are probably already singing some of the songs in your head. But just in case the decades have taken a toll on you, let me remind you that some of the numbers include: "I Hope I Get It" (Company), "I Can Do That" (Mike), "At The Ballet" (Sheila, Bebe, Maggie), "Sing!" (Kristine, Al), "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" ("If Troy Donahue can be a movie star, then I can be a movie star"; "Robert Goulet out, Steve McQueen in"), 'Nothing" (Diana), "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" (Val) ("Orchestra & Balcony"), "The Music & The Mirror" (Cassie), "One" (Company) ("One, singular sensation, every little step she takes"), and "What I Did For Love" (Diana, Company). The exceptional musicians performing in the hidden live orchestra include Evan Zavada (Keyboard 1/Conductor), Dan Garmon (Keyboard 2/programming), Mike Livingston (Reeds), Matthew Feick (Drums), and Oliver Sohngen (Bass).

There are no weak links in the ensemble cast, and I regret I cannot mention everyone for the unique contribution they made to the success of this show. Particularly outstanding, however, was Jennifer Knox, who was the beloved Cassie (when she didn't make the cut in the 1970s, test audiences left depressed with a negative opinion of the musical) and Jonny Stein, who was Mike (extraordinarily talented although his flailing his arms about aimlessly during the ballet combinations in the early audition numbers needs to be seriously curtailed - no professional dancer would have acted in that manner). Kelly Barberito, brought in at the last moment to play Maggie, excelled in the part, as did the very charismatic Kevin Lagasse playing Al. Often forgotten are the two actors who provide the glue that holds the show together: Zach, the Director, and Larry, the Assistant Choreographer. This production of A Chorus Line had strong and believable actors in both roles: Matthew LaBanca as Zach, and Matthew V. Ranaudo as Larry. Two parts of the show dragged on just a little too long, eliciting audible comments from some audience members. The first was Paul's long dialogue, without music, regarding his participation in the Jewel Box Revue, and the second was the casts' extensive discussion about what they would all do if they weren't able to dance anymore. Note to Director: These segments need to be tightened up.
I highly recommend you see this production of A Chorus Line at The Secret Theatre. It contains an explosive finale that will leave you cheering. If you've seen A Chorus Line before, you will be pleased with this production. It deserves an extended run. If you haven't seen this show before, you now have the opportunity to experience it in the intimacy of a small black box theater, which brings you close to the action, draws you in emotionally, and engages you on every level. For the bargain price of $18.00 a ticket, you can't go wrong! A Chorus Line plays at The Secret Theatre through February 14, 2016. For more information, visit

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