A Chorus Line at Lyric Arts is an Eerily Relevant Look at the Future of Theater, With Dancing!

Production photo from Chorus Line

I feel like I say this every review anymore so let me just confess right up front I’ve never seen A Chorus Line before. I haven’t even seen the film of this one. Yes, I’m aware that at one time it was the longest running show in Broadway history, and no, I have no excuse. But I would say that perhaps sometimes it’s worth the wait. Had I seen a production previously, I may have gone into this production reflecting on my memories of that production rather than with a mind that is of late, constantly struggling with the question of how theater survives in a post-covid worldWith the eyes and mind I came to A Chorus Line with today I see it, perhaps not as it was originally intended in 1975, but as a reflection of the current state of theater today. I see it as a meditation on the performer, why they do it, the challenges of choosing that profession, and what you do when you can no longer do what you feel you were made to do. I don’t want to turn anyone off to this production with these thoughts, the show is very entertaining, there is fabulous dancing, some good humor, some really top notch singing and yes, some very emotional dramatic moments.

A Chorus Line book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban is set during an audition for the Chorus line of a new Broadway musical. The initial group of 24 dancers is paired down to the final 17 of which only 8 are needed. Besides the dancers the only other characters are the Director Zach and the assistant choreographer Larry. After putting them through some steps he then asks them to tell him about themselves. The show seems designed to give the audience a chance to see beyond the sea of legs and arms and perfectly timed jazz hands to the individuals that make up a chorus line. It asks us to see beyond the entertainment to the human underneath. To remind us that what looks like a single line is made up of unique artists, each with their own lives and stories. In these times when unions are striking and the consumers of entertainment simplify their perspective on it by thinking actors are all rich and famous, it’s important to shine a light on the reality. 

The show begins with 24 dancers on stage all trying to be the best and singing the opening song “I Hope I Get It”. Immediately we are reminded that this is what a working performer does, they try to get the next job so they can pay their rent and eat. When they get to the section where Zach is asking the dancers to tell him about themselves, it’s over the course of multiple songs, some about an individual dancer, while others are in montage. Once we have a glimpse of some and a deeper understanding of others, one of the dancers suffers and injury. It’s the kind of injury that could end a career and we can see it cross everyone of their faces that could be them. Now that we have achieved a level personal connection with them, we have an emotional understanding of what that could mean. After the injured dancer is taken to the hospital, Zach asks the group what would they do if they could no longer dance? It’s a question more and more dancers, singers, actors, and other artists are undoubtedly asking themselves everyday. Audiences have not returned to live theater to anywhere near the pre-covid days. Theaters are closing, that means fewer productions a year, fewer roles for performers. If you are an actor, a dancer, a singer, what would you do if you could no longer do that?

With a cast of 26, any attempt to summarize performance as a whole seems impossible. There are a few featured performers that I do think stand out from the crowd, though it may be the size of the role above talent, because in general I thought it to be a very talented cast. Kyler Chase as Zach is the one role that doesn’t require much in terms of dancing, but requires an actor who can take command of the stage at a moments notice. Chase moves in and out of the dancers in the opening and then takes to going up and down the stairs of theater, he is with the audience and we are with him, he is asking the questions that we want answers to, who are these people? what makes them dance? Jaclyn McDonald as Cassie, a former girlfriend of Zach who has realized she isn’t meant to be a star, she’s good at dancing and it’s what she loves. She has a wonderful solo number that illustrates how see feels “The Music and the Mirror”. Chris Sanchez plays Paul a young dancer who during a talk with Zach reveals how he came to dancing and his homosexuality and how he had to hide both from his family. It’s the really moving moment in the show and the one that made my eye leak a little. Sanchez earns the tears, with his vulnerable and compelling performance. Finally, a shout out to Marley Ritchie as Diana who sings the song “What I Did For Love” it’s a beautiful rendition of the song, and coupled with her dancing skills she was clearly one of the most talented of a very talented cast.

Director Scott Ford stages the location show as dynamically as he can. Having Zach come out into the audience so that it feels like his voice is coming from us was a great thematic choice as well as adding an element of variety to what is by design a very stagebound show. Lauri Kraft has done a miracle with the choreography. Lyric Arts isn’t a tiny stage, but it isn’t a huge one either and when she has 26 performers all on stage at one time dancing and the audience is able to see what they are all doing and remark at their synchronization, that’s a hell of a feat. Kraft uses the canny device of having someone who can do something special like a flip to raise the wow factor and punch up a dance routine. It’s always wise to incorporate any special techniques someone has rather than getting locked into a predetermined sequence, it always feels when you see that happen that it was done by someone who knows the value of collaboration. The Musical Director is Wesley Frye and he and his orchestra handle Marvin Hamlisch’s iconic music with the precision needed to perform all of the wonderful dance moves we see throughout. Finally a quick comment on Christy Branham’s costumes, far out!

If you are like me and have never seen A Chorus Line I highly recommend this production. Remember theater is now, theater is this moment, you can’t DVR it and watch it later, it’s what makes theater special. Everytime you put off seeing a show you miss the opportunity to experience something unique. But it’s also of the moment in the way this show feels as relevant today as it did over 45 years ago. Since I began going to the theater in ernest, this show hasn’t been performed locally, it probably will be again, but it may be five or even ten years, this might be your chance, don’t throw away your shot. A Chorus Line runs through October 1st at Lyric Arts in Downtown Anoka for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.lyricarts.org/a-chorus-line

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Headshot of Rob Dunkelberger
Rob Dunkelberger

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers and their podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat as well as a syndicating contributor to Minnesota Playlist. Read all his content www.thestagesofmn.com