A Chorus Line” at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 By: John P. McCarthy Source: ON STAGE BLOG

It was and is a worthy aim. But the exposure troupers receive in this wildly popular show comes with risk. When singled out and asked to produce the song-and-dance goods, there’s always the chance they’ll be found wanting. They can’t coast on star power or a reputation earned in another medium. Their talent can’t be faked. Adding to the pressure in such a familiar and beloved vehicle—arguably the quintessential back-stage or behind-the-scenes musical—they’ll likely be judged in comparison to the original cast and those of subsequent revivals, not least by their peers.

Well, no one appearing in Westchester Broadway Theatre’s “A Chorus Line” should worry. The company is uniformly outstanding. And though not seamless the production is among the tightest and most enjoyable I’ve seen at WBT. (The contractual requirement that it be presented without an intermission is a major plus. Even when you add an hour for the meal service, the evening feels both swift and substantial.)

The emotional impact of the raw material, which grew out of informal conversations between real Broadway singers and dancers, is tremendous; and the deceptively simple concept in which it’s packaged is a marvel. The show begins in the middle of an audition, as a director (Zach) puts a group of would-be chorines through their paces. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of being thrust immediately and unceremoniously into the creative process—and into hearts and minds of the people doing the creating.

Director and choreographer Mark Martino, who oversaw WBT’s colorfully effusive production of “Mamma Mia!” last year, is in his element here as well—on a spare, black stage with a mirror-lined rear wall. It’s a setting intended to showcase pure singing, dancing and acting. Bob Bray deserves equal praise for his handling of the music and orchestra.

David Elder is entirely convincing as the hard-driving director Zach. In matching beige shirt and bell-bottoms, he commands our respect, along with the dancers’, by projecting a sort of nurturing authoritarianism. He’s not afraid of excoriating auditioners, nor is he afraid of appearing vulnerable—as when he seeks an explanation for their break-up from ex-lover Cassie.

In the role of Cassie, a one-time featured performer seeking to jump-start her career by returning to the chorus, Erica Mansfield struts her stuff with a mix of grit and desperation. Lauren Sprague nails the withering sarcasm of statuesque cougar Sheila. Alexandra Mateo’s voice is perfect for the aching melodies of Diana’s two songs, which constitute the lyrical heart of the show. And Emma Degerstedt nicely captures the humor and poignancy in her number “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” a conflicted ode to the empowering effects of plastic surgery.

Maybe because it’s a time when feminism was starting to gain traction in the public consciousness, “A Chorus Line” does favor the female characters. The “boys,” as they’re patronizingly called in this milieu, don’t get anywhere near the same amount of choice musical material as the “girls”. Paul’s long dramatic monologue, which revolves around his sexual identity and sense of belonging, compensates for that imbalance. Especially because Michael John Hughes renders it so movingly. One last shout-out to Brian Dillon, who matches Elder for plausibility in the ancillary role of Zach’s lieutenant, Larry. Dillon also serves as associate choreographer on WBT’s production, a fortuitous example of life imitating art… and vice versa.

For the next two months in Elmsford, a bunch of them will be putting it all on the line for the sake of entertainment and motivated by personal reasons. There’s no place for them to hide and no reason to. Do yourself a favor and go catch them.

** Excerpts from a longer article.