When it first hit Broadway in 1975, “A Chorus Line” was a critical and commercial sensation. Praised for providing a raw, realistic glimpse into the lives of Broadway chorus dancers, the musical won the Pulitzer Prize for drama as well as multiple Tony Awards, and would go on to become the longest running show in Broadway history at the time.
In part because of its stark simplicity (the setting is a bare theater stage), the show has become a staple of local and regional theater companies, as well as at colleges, community theaters and even high schools. But, does a show that was ultra-contemporary in its time still resonate over 40 years later?
Texas State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance’s new production of “A Chorus Line” reminds us that, yes, this show still has a lot to say about youth, desire, individuality, conformity and, ultimately, the nature of musical theater itself.
Not only does this production reassert the power of the show, but it also puts a huge spotlight on the immense amount of talent that the Department of Theatre and Dance is turning out. And because it is fully sponsored by Legacy Mutual Mortgage, all ticket sales will go towards student scholarships.
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“A Chorus Line” is a true ensemble piece, with no real leading actors or supporting players. Telling the story of a daylong audition for a Broadway musical overseen by a director who wants to probe into the dancers’ psychologies as much as their work histories, the show highlights each auditioner in turn. Conceived (and originally directed and choreographed) by Michael Bennett, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, part of the point of the show was to explore the stories of the nameless, faceless Broadway chorus line dancers whose individualities are sublimated into a singular performance of perfectly synced motions.
The irony of this process, and the heartbreak of this erasure of individuality, has never been clearer than in Texas State’s production. Director/choreographer Cassie Abate and musical director Greg Bolin put full faith in their talented cast of younger performers, whose athletic dancing skills, powerful vocals and heartbreaking performances fill up the bare stage more than any complex set ever could.
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Similarly, the scenic design by Cheri Prough DeVol, lighting design by Ethan Jones and sound design by Jason Taylor work seamlessly to keep the focus on the line of dancers, while Stacey Johnson’s costume design evokes the 1970s setting without falling into cheesy clichés.
The true stars of this production, though, are the student actors making up the line of auditioning dancers (complimented by faculty member Nick Lawson as the director, Zach, creating an age and powerful differential that gives the show its inherent tension). Continuing the ironies at the heart of the show, it would be almost unfair to single out any particular performance because almost all the actors have standout, show-stopping moments. However, Emma Hearn’s manic, desperate dance solo does deserve special mention, as do the heartbreaking earnestness of Anna Uzele’s musical numbers and the acrobatic shenanigans of CK Anderson.
“A Chorus Line” has always been a show that speaks especially to the lovers of musical theater and the bittersweet reality of dedicating your life to it. Texas State’s dynamic, emotional, engaging new production holds true to this tradition, and it’s clear that for the young performers this show was entirely done for love.
“A CHORUS LINE”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26-30, 2 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 1
Where: Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, 405 Moon St., San Marcos
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