A CHORUS LINE at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Monday, February 12, 2018 By: Eugene Paul Source: THE ROCKLAND REVIEW

It’s difficult and maybe a bit rash to say that in their 204th production, Bill Stutler and Bob Funking are presenting what is perhaps the best production ever at their famed dinner theatre but if ever a show was made for their stage, this legendary hit musical is it.  It even seems to feel at times that the stage, the whole theater was built just for this show, that’s how wonderfully well everything has come together, the songs, the story, the costumes, the extraordinarily sensitive staging, and those dancers, those dancers, those dancers. Way back in 1975, A Chorus Line, built around the lives of those marvelous human beings became a huge hit as they poured their life’s blood and guts into their performances.

 There’s a gritty backstory to this living masterpiece. Before the first performance at the Public Theater in 1975, the original company of dancers collectively had appeared in seventy-two Broadway shows, in seventeen national companies, in nine bus and truck tours giving a total of 37,095 performances.  Altogether, they had 612 years of dance training with 748 teachers.  They spent $1,194,256 on dance lessons. In their performances, they went through thirty back injuries, 26 knee injuries, and 36 ankle injuries. Well, today’s dancers are better than ever, as incredible as that may seem.  And so is the show as a result. Their creative talents and energies fuse perfectly with the deeply empathetic direction of Mark Martino, their director, and choreographer who has somehow enriched the original choreography of Michael Bennett into this evening’s joyous experience, even “the sweetness and the sorrow”.

 Yes, that’s from the core anthem of the show, “What I did for Love”, that tough, bittersweet song created by Marvin Hamlish and Ed Kleban in their prize-winning score for this prize-winning show. The crux of the storyline by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante is blood simple but cuts deep into our whole, aching prejudiced culture as the show reaches into all of us:  hundreds of dancers have come out to audition for the chorus of a new, upcoming Broadway show.  They’ve been winnowed to these seventeen dancers, each of whom is desperate to get a spot in the show’s chorus line.  But – only four men and four women out of these seventeen will end up as the chosen few. And Zach (absolutely splendid David Elder) the tough director and choreographer, wants to know everything about his chosen few, who they really are, how they got here, why they’re dancers, what made them choose this hard, hard life.  And what will they do when they can no longer dance, no longer get a job dancing in the chorus.

 So from the very top, when the show opens with a whole company of struggling –to-keep-up dancers being driven by Zach‘s assistant choreographer, Larry (actual assistant choreographer wonderful Brian Dillon) through some set routines demanded by Zach we are catapulted out of our lives into the backstage struggles of seventeen people we get to know better than our neighbors, from all of them singing “I Hope I get It” – yes, they all sing, too! - and meaning every word- to the first of Zach’s individual, revealing interviews with Mike (extraordinary Drew Carr) whose “I Can Do That” is a brash, bright singing tale of little Mike tagging along to his sister’s dance lesson and knowing with absolute confidence that he can do that:  dance.  And, boys, does he ever. Grabs every one of us with our unvoiced deep down wish we could, too. Even today, as much as we’ve opened up, changed, the gutsy revealing interviews are riveting. They are the show.

 Threaded throughout is the antagonistic sparring between director Zach and Cassie (excellent Erica Mansfield). She shouldn’t be there. Not only because they have a history, she’s too good.  She used to be in the chorus and was pulled out, featured because she was just the best. And here, years later, she’s auditioning for her old boyfriend?  She flat out needs a job just like the rest of the dancers. Director Mark Martino makes their relationship searingly vivid. Indeed, his deep empathy for the whole company gives each of them their own flashes of personal dimension so that this line of seventeen dancers becomes people we know and like and understand. Talent, oh yes, but also brave. Martino carries us all through to the huge “One” number that razzle dazzles the final individual bows of the show, each one a gem. And so is he. Bob Bray did the fine musical direction. Steve Loftus designed the crisp settings.  Keith Nielsen gives us the costumes. This Chorus Line could happily stay here forever.

If you’ve seen A CHORUS LINE before, you have to see it now, better than ever. Unforgettable