City Springs Theatre Company has come back from the pandemic in a big way with a scintillating production of an authentic Broadway legend, “A Chorus Line,” directed and choreographed by original cast member and Tony Award-winner Baayork Lee.
The show is running at the 1,000-seat Byers Theatre at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center through March 27.
In 1975, the mania over “A Chorus Line” rivaled that of “Hamilton” today. In fact, the two Broadway mega-hits have a lot in common: Both were watersheds in theatre history, winning every award in sight, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Both were/are impossible to get tickets to. When “A Chorus Line” opened Off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theatre, the worlds of theatre and dance went crazy. This was their story (as you’ll see), and everyone who was anyone fought to get a ticket. I remember reading that Katharine Hepburn and Diana Ross were allowed to sit in the aisles because the show sold out instantly, and they had to see it.
When the show moved to Broadway in July of 1975, the tumult continued and magnified; and yours truly pulled one of the great coups of my theatre-going career by copping a single ticket for a Saturday matinee in August; thus I saw the original cast (and Ms. Lee!). I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such electricity in a theatre. It was an original work of art; nobody had ever seen anything like it. When it was over, blissed-out strangers looked at each other and smiled, tears running down many faces.
The great triumph of “A Chorus Line” is that it’s ultimately not about dancers per se (although it is based on the true-life stories of the original 17 dancers); they’re just the convenient metaphor. The show is about anyone who has ever put herself on the line following one’s passion—and hopefully getting paid for it. And we all can identify with the pain of rejection, as well as the joy of being accepted.
Zack (Billy Harrigan Tighe), the all-powerful director/choreographer who, with his assistant choreographer Larry (Nathan Lubeck), must choose only four boys and four girls (that’s what the dancers are called) after first whittling a stageful of dancers to only 17.
Zack’s former girlfriend Cassie (Sarah Bowden) was a star dancer, but left to try her luck in Hollywood. Now she’s back and needs a job, but Zack seems distracted by her presence and a little angry. He tells her privately she’s “too good” for chorus work.
But when Cassie stands alone onstage in front of a mirror to plead for a chance and sings and dances “The Music and the Mirror,” it’s a showstopping moment. The song starts small and soft and then builds and builds as Cassie becomes the joy and ecstasy of all art realized. It is goose bump time.
I wish I could tell you more of the dancers’ individual stories, such as those of Sheila (Anne Otto), Mike (Tanner Pflueger), Richie (Johnny Duvelson), Val (Grace Arnold), Diana (Orianna Hilliard), Bebe (Emily Franch), Maggie (Cecilia Trippiedi), Mark (Lukas DeLancey), and Paul (Emmanuel Cologne). The entire cast is carefully chosen and extremely talented; how thrilled they must be to be working with the legendary Baayork Lee.
You probably know some of the songs: “What I Did For Love,” “One,” “I Can Do That,” “At the Ballet,” “I Hope I Get It,” and the saucy “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three.”
“A Chorus Line” was conceived, originally directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett; James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, book; Marvin Hamlisch, music; Edward Kleban, lyrics; the show was originally co-choreographed by Bob Avian.
At City Springs the music director/conductor is Greg Matteson; associate choreographer, Matthew Couvillon.
The original producer, Joseph Papp, said: “Like all great works — like Shakespeare — ‘A Chorus Line’ is of its time and yet has the ability to always seem contemporary. Its stamina is derived from its connection to the human race.”
I think Mr. Papp got it: This show has everything. I remember years ago in New York City buses would go by with the ad: “The Best Musical. Ever. A Chorus Line.” That is debatable, of course, but City Springs’ production throbs with color, vitality, pathos, music, and dance. Don’t miss it!
For tickets and information, visit cityspringstheatre.com.