‘A Chorus Line’—the one and only

Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2018 By: Bruce Apar Source: Somers Record

When Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban collaborated on the hummable score of “A Chorus Line,” they could not have imagined how prophetic their grand finale exclamation—“one singular sensation!”—would prove to be in describing the magical destiny of the show itself. More than 40 years after it caused a sensation the likes of which Broadway had never seen, this unique masterwork remains as ageless as ever. That’s because it is nearly flawless.

The same superlatives apply to the Broadway-quality production now on stage through April 1 at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford. There is no better or more successful example in theater annals of the cliché “less is more” than “A Chorus Line.” On the surface, it is minimalist. The 23 actors are in street clothes or rehearsal dancewear. Otherwise, the stage is bare. There is not a trace of scenery or props. Ah, but there is that mirror, that wall-to-wall, door-to-ceiling mirror that looms over the entire stage. It is used sparingly but to maximum effect, ingeniously “casting” the real-life audience as part of the show’s stage audience. When used, the mirror also creates the illusion that there are twice as many dancers on stage. The is show is all about its characters, and the austere setting allows the audience to focus squarely on their stories—of aspiration, frustration and coming of age— without the visual distraction of inanimate objects.

As simple as the set-up seems, the artful and empathetic book (by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante) digs deeper than most any other musical had before it. It’s no stretch to observe that a character-driven phenomenon like “Dear Evan Hansen” is a direct descendant of “A Chorus Line,” whose tagline easily could be “show business raw.” One by one, we meet the multicultural collection of seasoned troopers who are auditioning to be cast in the eight-person chorus line.Each steps out when called on by the business-like director, Zach (an excellent David Elder), who mostly remains unseen, making his presence akin to a “voice of God.” He wants to know something personal about each of the dancers, and their responses from the tuneful and insightful journey on which we embark.

The intimacy created between the audience and the characters is palpable, as the choreographed dancers’ smiles are wiped off their faces to reveal achingly authentic people with whom we can sympathize.  The straightforward power of the production sucks you right into its emotional vortex and doesn’t loosen its grip one bit for two glorious hours. There’s Val (a terrific Emma Degerstedt), who comically illustrates in “Dance: 10, Looks :Three” how some well-placed cosmetic surgery can do wonders for getting noticed at auditions. From Mark (PJ Palmer) and Paul (Michael John Hughes), we learn (or recall) that sexual awakening comes in various forms (“Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”). And so it goes for other characters, whose tales of woe and of wonder are interspersed with a magical Broadway score that remains exciting, vibrant and uplifting, including the rhapsodic “At the Ballet” (performed by the uniformly impressive trio of Lauren Sprague, Emily Kelly, Kelsey Walston), “ e Music and the Mirror” (a show-stopping Erica Mansfield as Zach’s former squeeze, Cassie), and, of course, the one and only “One,” the rousing climax that sends a chill as the entire cast parades on stage in full regalia, costumed in gold formal wear replete with top hats.

The ending works like a reverse flashback: Now that we’ve gotten to know close up these otherwise anonymous “gypsies” (as dancers are known in the trade), we get to see them as we normally do—as "one” of the many who toil in obscurity to form the sturdy and disciplined backbone of a musical production, while the big-name star is the “one and only” who basks in autograph-seeking adulation. If “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was the unofficial entertainment anthem of yesteryear, “One” has become its worthy successor for a new generation. That much was clear as the audience on opening night started applauding in giddy anticipation as soon as it heard the first few notes.

You won’t regret seeing this Westchester Broadway Theatre production. Along with just about everyone else I spoke with at opening night, I can attest it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen at this professional theater (where you also can see a show without having dinner). There are lots of reasons that  I recommend this as a must-see for fans of musical theater.

First, there’s “A Chorus Line” itself, one of the few musicals to earn a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for drama, not to mention nine Tony Awards, a testament to the brilliance of its concept and execution and to its indelible heart and soul.

Second, this is a great cast, full of “triple-threats,” performers who excel at singing and acting as well as dancing. Other standouts, in addition to the aforementioned, are Drew Carr as Mike, who backflips across the stage in “I Can Do That.” More than half the cast are members of Actors’ Equity Association.

Third, there is the pitch-perfect staging, with director/choreographer Mark Martino staying true to the original vision and mechanics of the legendary theater visionary Michael Bennett, who also gave us “Dreamgirls.” Fourth, the orchestra does ear-pleasing justice to the clever and versatile score. If you’re looking for great live entertainment nearby, this is the one.