Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Chorus Line – Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante

By Joe Straw

In the late seventies, right after finishing college in Tennessee, I came to Hollywood and found work as the doorman at the Pantages Theatre.   How I got there, I’m not quite sure.   

One of the first shows playing at The Pantages was “A Chorus Line” and, on most nights, I watched from the wings, always watching.  Now that I look back on that time, well, I have great memories. Wanda Richert, Tony Teague, Scott Plank, and others - good memories - a flood of memories and one can’t help but get emotional at the sound of:

Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Again!
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch...Right!

That connects with...
Turn, turn, out, in, jump, step,
Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch.

Got it?... Going on. And...
Turn, turn, touch, down, back, step,
Pivot, step, walk, walk, walk.

Right! Let's do the whole combination,
Facing away from the mirror.
From the top.

A-Five, six, seven, eight! – Zach

I have not seen a high school production of  “A Chorus Line”.  

My college professor scoffed when someone suggested we perform it, possibly because of the inherent rigorous demands of this show.  Such a production needed trained dancers, actors, and an orchestra working very hard to get this show on its feet, and he didn’t think we had the chops.  

Well, Culver City High School does a terrific job of satisfying those of us who want to relive “A Chorus Line” and get emotional. This is an excellent production with a lot of heart, exceptional performances, and that one that will have you feeling good all over again.

Culver City High School Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (AVPA) presents A Chorus Line, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban, Book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, directed by Jill Novick, March 6, 7, 13, 14 at 7:00 pm and March 8 at 1:00 pm at the Robert Frost Auditorium in Culver City, California.

A Chorus Line, if you are new to the planet, is about a group of hungry dancers vying for eight positions in the chorus of a major Broadway show.  The dancers chosen will be the backing the star or the leads of the show.   

A white line stretching across the stage is there to remind the dancers of their objective, to get a place on the line no matter what, using charm, voice, legs, and other accouterments.   

But Zach (Simon Johnson) isn’t going to make it easy for these dancers. He’s going to put them through the mill to see which one fits the bill.

“A, five, six, seven, eight!!!” – Zach

And so, as Zach is weeding out the dancers, everyone is giving it their all.  Through the course of the audition we get to find the dancers strengths and weaknesses. 

“Any Broadway shows?” - Zach

The weak are weeded out. The answer to that question is the death knell for a dancer trying to make it. 

Zach calls the numbers to the first dancers who have made the cut, and instructs them to get their pictures and resume out and stand on the white line.   

“Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume?
That is a picture of a person I don’t know.

What does he want from me?
What should I try to be?
So many faces all around, and here we go.
I need this job, oh God, I need this show.” - Paul

One doesn’t expect an orchestra in a high school production, but Tony Spano, Jr. the Music Director and Conductor does a remarkable job using students and a few professional musicians playing the music and making the night a glorious event.

Singular, or the collective whole one might call this group of thespians who worked well together.

Sensation is a term describing the night.

And while we’re on the subject, one initial observation is the young women have had more dance training than the high school young men. But what the men lacked in skills made up for it in character development and “personal flair”.

Emma deZarn does a fantastic job as Cassie.  Her acting is superb and her dancing is first rate.  To quote someone after the show “Emma deZarn nailed it!” “The Music and the Mirror” dance is wonderful.

Adriana Romero is tremendous as Diana and gives a lot of life to the song “Nothing”.  The song is moving in many ways and Romero is up to the task of finding a character that is fully developed.

Khamiya Terrell towers over the rest of the cast giving us the idea that she is much older as Sheila is supposed to be. She is funny and sassy all in the same breath.   “At the Ballet” is one of the highlights of the show and Terrell, Claire Skelly as Maggie, the product of an unhappy marriage, and Isabel Parra as Bebe, the unattractive daughter - all have wonderful and strong singing voices, creating a sense of being at ballet classes and dealing with their parents.   

Carly Shiever plays Val who sings Dance: 10; Looks: 3 is another highlight of the show. Shiever has a very strong voice and a nice stage presence.

Elisa Spear plays Judy one of the toughest roles of this musical to get just right.  She is kind of clumsy, forgetful, and sometimes scatterbrained, but a gifted dancer.  Spear is exquisite in the role.

Sonya Broner and Angel Salas play the husband and wife team Kristine and Al respectively as they form a duet to sing “Sing”.  Salas does a great job with the relationship and has a very nice presence on stage. Broner does well singing off key but could go even farther off key.

Courtney Lundy plays Connie to perfection and has a very nice way about her on stage.

Raegan Harris has a superior voice playing Reggie, usually the character is reserved for a male dancer Ritchie, but Harris did a fantastic job and it worked perfectly.

Others rounding out the outstanding female cast were Sarah Toutounchain as Vicki, Mikaela Barocio as Tricia, Rachel Gonzales as Rachel, Paxton Amor as a dancer, and Katy Engel as Lois who has a very nice presence and lovely dance skills.

Samuel Petersen plays Mike Costa and has a great tap number in “I Can Do That”.  I always thought this number was too short in the musical and way too long in the movie.  Still Petersen gives it the right amount of time it deserved.

Oliver Berliner is Don Kerr from Kansas City.  Berliner has a wonder face for theatre and manages his role with aplomb.

Ryan Gacula does a respectable job as Paul and manages to convince us that he has done all that he has done in his young life.

Reno Behnken is Gregory Gardener.  Reno is another actor with a great character face and appeal.  

Andrew Alvarenga is Bobby Mills a dancer from upstate New York who believes committing suicide in Buffalo is redundant.  Alvarenga is extremely amusing in the role and has a natural ability on stage.  

Ben Hilsberg is Mark Anthony, a first timer who will work very hard to get on the line.   

Simon Johnson is wonderful as Zach.  His voice is strong and he could give more emotional life to “A – five, six, seven, eight!”

Henry Farfan is Tom, Owen Jones plays Butch, Gabe Lobet is Frank and Nicholas Freeson is Roy.  

Jill Novick, the director, did a great job of getting this musical onto The Robert Frost Auditorium stage.  There is a rich history with Novick and this show and the love just comes pouring through in every singular moment. This is a tremendous job and Culver City High School is lucky to have her.  

Julie Carson, The Choreographer, also did a tremendous job with the look of the show.

Jacky Jung did a marvelous job with the Chorus Line costumes – not sure where she got them, of if they were tailored made, but they just looked fabulous in the closing number, “One”!

Members of the orchestra, and I especially love the trombones were:

Judy Gottesman – accompanist
Peter Marcus – keyboards
Patrick Gardner – bass
Josh Zucker – percussion
Bella Rivera – flute
Sadushi De Silva – flute
Alberto Cruz – clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax
Kent Seeberger – clarinet
Niko Vlahakis – flute, alto sax
Milo Bechtloff Weising – bari sax, clarinet
Paul Witt – trumpet
Mikael Nida – trumpet
June Satton - trombone
James Tingle – trombone

Other members of the creative team are as follows:

Lighting & set design – Kristen Opstad
Sound design – Will Schuessler
Stage Manager – Cricket Cary-Green

Relive the dream once again and take someone who has seen it a number of times.

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