The line “One Singular Sensation” is very well known to theatre-goers, and musical lovers in particular. This revival of the winner of the 1976 Pultizer Prize for Drama, and nine Tony awards is a singular sensation under Matt Gardner’s inspired direction.
“This is a lovely, shimmering, razzmatazz of a show. The songs are just as affecting as ever . . . the dancing sublime . . . and the story still full of hope and wonder and sadness and grit. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.”
The heart of the show is fairly simple—it’s the 1970s, New York, and a group of dancers are auditioning for a new musical slated to end up on Broadway after a two-month out-of-town tryout; Zach, the director, will be whittling down the choices to 19, and then to the final 8—four men and four women. Along the way, he’ll ask the dancers to tell him “something about yourselves” to try to see… what exactly? Why they dance? What are they willing to give up to dance? Why they are who they are? It’s a touch voyeuristic and theatrical at the same time.
But these dancers want the job—they are hungry for it; so they turn themselves inside out for him. And do it spectacularly well with song and dance.
The other tension comes from the arrival of Cassie (Emily Tyra). She and Zach lived together, until she up and left to California to try to make it in Hollywood. Now she’s back, having discovered that at heart she’s a dancer. Her big lift will be convincing Zach she can go “back” to being in the chorus; he had tried to make her a star and his own ego seems to demand that she be a star no matter what she wants.
This revival departs from previous efforts because the Signature team received permission from the estate of Michael Bennett—the original director and choreographer—to set aside the dance master plan and create their own looks. The music by composer Marvin Hamlisch and Lyricist Edward Kleban, and the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, are still the same, as is the staging of having Zach (ably, if quite reservedly, played by Matthew Risch) sitting at a table in the center stage seats.
Gardner worked with new choreography by Denis Jones and Bob Avian to put more shine on the dancing, even before the grand finale when the glitz and glamour costumes appear. And the efforts paid off. The dancing is taut and sizzling and disciplined and smoking hot.
But before the grand finale, the cast of 19 really do look like they’re in an old, smelly rehearsal space; you can almost smell the sweat and feet and tension coming from the walls. The terrific set design is by Jason Sherwood; costumes are by Sarah Cubbage; and the lighting is by Adam Honore. All three elements work beautifully together to create a mood and structure for the hopes, dreams and fears of the hopefuls auditioning.
Jon Kalbfleisch is the music director; and the music is beautifully balanced with the voices. The articulation was very clear and strong.
About half of the cast are familiar, at least somewhat, to Signature and Washington-area audiences; the rest were cast from New York. All are really terrific dancers; in particular, as Sheila, Maria Rizzo puts the sexy in auditioning. Her aggressive, and somewhat nascent feminist, attitude might cost her a place in the show with Zach, but she held the audience mesmerized when she was on stage.
Jeff Gorti as Paul is also a stand-out. He is so very talented as a dancer, and very reserved. He is also notable for refusing to talk about a tragedy that seemingly killed his younger sister a few years ago and when Zach tries to push him, he holds firm. There is a lovely moment later in the show between him and Zach, just before he injures his knee in a sequence and is sent to the hospital. The frozen looks of horror on the dancer’s faces—because they are well aware of the time limits and precariousness of their lives—is a fearsome moment. You can see the fragile edifices of their lives teetering.
This is a lovely, shimmering, razzmatazz of a show. The songs are just as affecting as ever (with perhaps the exception of “Sing!” which made me wonder why a non-singer would audition for a show that requires both singing and dancing), the dancing sublime (these dancers don’t turn on a dime—they turn on the pointy edge of an Xacto knife), and the story still full of hope and wonder and sadness and grit. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.
Running Time: One hour and 53 minutes with no intermission.
Show Information: ‘A Chorus Line,’ runs through January 5, 2020 at Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA. For more information, please click here. https://www.sigtheatre.org/