The highly sparked energy that emanated from the stage Sunday afternoon at the Paper Mill Playhouse inMillburnappeared to electrify every member of the completely filled audience from the very moment the curtain went up on “A Chorus Line.”
Seventeen young people pounded the stage, dancing their hearts out, and it was much more than “One Singular Sensation,” with a full-length mirror in the background that appeared to double the number of performers. To borrow a line from the dialogue, the dancers were all “very special.” Incredibly so. Although there were many astounding moments in the musical, the most astonishing of all was the fact that by the end of play, the audience was familiar with the personal lives of every one of the 17 performers. And it was all done in one act of two hours and 10 minutes.
Mark S. Hoebee, producing artistic director, and Todd Schmidt, managing director, are to be congratulated for selecting the nearly 40-year-old “A Chorus Line” for its season’s opening. And Mitzi Hamilton, too, who restaged the original direction and choreography in a difficult show with absolute perfection. She had been with “A Chorus Line” from its very beginnings, when it was merely a workshop, and she played the role of Val when it reached Broadway. The musical, which garnered a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize, originally had been conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. Later that evening, the Paper Mill Playhouse offered a tribute to Hamlisch; more than 100 people came on stage to honor the late composer, who died this past August.
The musical play is set at an audition, the third and final callback for a forthcoming Broadway show, during which four males and four females must be selected from the 17 who have applied for the “jobs.” And all of them have varied personalities: creative, anxious, ambitious and, apparently, in desperate need of this “job,” which would be a dream come true. So, when the whole company dances to and sings “I Hope I Get It,” the audience does, too.
Among those dancers who applied are two in particular; Val, beautifully portrayed by Ashley Arcement, more of a professional dancer than the rest, a former lover of the musical’s director, Zach, and in conflict with him — Martin Harvey was exceptional in the role — and Sheila, marvelously played by Rachelle Rak, adorned in a flesh-colored costume, attempting to appear so provocative that the director would be unable to guess her age.
Outstanding among the music, smoothly provided by John O’Neill, music director and conductor, and the dancing are “I Can Do That,” impressively done by Mark Myars; “And,” by Kyle Vaughn, Kevin Curtis, Arcement and Julia Freyer; “At the Ballet,” Rak, Nikka Graff Lanzarone and Karley Willocks; and “Sing!” Amanda Rose and Mike Cannon. The wonderful solos were offered by such fine, talented performers as Gabrielle Ruiz, who sang “Nothing,” and “What I Did For Love” with the company; Arcement with “Dance,” “Ten,” “Looks” and “Three,” and Cassie Lee Goldyn in “The Music and the Mirror.”
Thanks to an exceptional script, the audience learns so much about the private lives of all of these people that it sympathizes with their problems, understands their various backgrounds and truly becomes emotionally involved in the outcome of their hard work — really backbreaking work — in coordinating dance. And there is a particular moment when one of the male dancers falls to the ground due to a recent knee operation, and must be carried away that every one of the 16 remaining dancers feels the emotional impact of what they would do in the future, and what would happen to their dreams, should something like that happen to them.
In the end, the eight who are selected also provides provocative moments with the cast and the audience. There are several rare occasions in “A Chorus Line” in which the story dates itself with references to the period of time in which the play was written — nearly four decades ago — but it is overpowered by what is happening on stage.
The extraordinary finale provided various mirrors that allowed an audience to marvel at the angles of dance by the whole company. Plaudits must go to James Dardenne for the scenic design, Tharon Musser for the original lighting design, Randy Hansen for sound design, Robin Wagner for original scenic design, Gail Baldoni for costume coordination and additional design and Julie Duro for adapting the lighting design.
“A Chorus Line,” which will dance for audiences until Oct. 28, is an absolute must-see experience. After all, one doesn’t want to wait another 40 years to applaud this rare and fascinating piece of entertainment.