“A Chorus Line” is an iconic musical with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. The Broadway production ran for approximately 15 years, establishing a new record for the longest-running Broadway show produced in the U.S. up to that time. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won nine including Best Musical, Best Director (Michael Bennett), Best Choreographer (Bob Avian), and Best Actress (Donna McKechnie). The show also won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play. The show’s unprecedented success resulted in many tours, international productions, and a couple of revivals.
Director Mark Minnick and choreographer Vincent Musgrave have somehow managed to not only be faithful to the original production, but very cleverly adapted it to a theater-in-the round performance space.
Toby’s first produced “A Chorus Line” in 1986 and this is only their second mounting of the musical. The story centers on the unsung heroes of Broadway musicals—the uber-talented, highly trained, and underpaid chorus singer/dancers, known as “gypsies.” The book was based on original testimonies of gypsies during pre-production workshops. They often sublimated their own careers in order to back the stars in Broadway musicals and, at times, make them look better than they are. The setting is an audition where the dancers are asked to speak individually about their past, personal lives, and professional experiences. Musical numbers are inserted between comedic and dramatic scenes and monologues. The stories of the dancers emphasize such struggles as the female beauty myth, harsh economics, and being gay in a heterocentric world. The songs offer a glimpse into the poignant ambition of young men and women trying to prove their worth in a cutthroat profession.
The show defied many traditions of the great American musical built up over many decades. There is no scenery other than a few mirrors. There are no costumes, just leotards, street clothes, and some jazzy sequins and spangles for the finale. The action takes place on a stage of an unknown theater and there is no star performer. Director Mark Minnick and choreographer Vincent Musgrave have somehow managed to not only be faithful to the original production, but very cleverly adapted it to a theater-in-the round performance space. The dancing is not confined to a chorus “line” but instead group numbers are presented in various geometric arrangements (circle, square, triangle, wedge, etc.) and solo dancers use the entire floor. The effective choreography allows them to face all four sections of the audience at various times. Music Director and conductor Ross Scott Rawlings has the cast singing in beautiful harmony in the chorus selections, and the soloists shine with particularly strong “belt” voices, appropriate to the musical style of the show. The great sound of the band provides a solid, rhythmic background to the dancing. Lynn Joslin’s lighting design, with multiple spotlights, keeps the focus on the individual performers and also emphasizes the harshness of a bare stage.
Veteran Toby actor Jeffrey Shankle plays the director/choreographer Zach and moves the plot along, keeping the audience in suspense as he eliminates the 23 dancers down to 17—and then down to the final four women and four men by the show’s end. Andrew Gordon as the assistant choreographer Larry, Nicky Kaider as Mike, and Lydia Gifford as Cassie stood out among the superb dancing cast in their respective solo spots. As Diana, Leela Dawson’s versions of “What I Did For Love” and “Nothing” were sung with power and emotion, bringing out enthusiastic shouts of approval from the audience. Even though great advancements have been made in gay and civil rights over the past 50 years since “A Chorus Line” was conceived, Brian Dauglash still manages to bring a tear to the eye with the heartfelt and sad story of Paul’s struggle for acceptance by a young, gay Puerto Rican performer.
“A Chorus Line” is not often presented in family dinner theatre due to its adult themes and coarse language. The current production re-emphasizes its value in the Broadway catalogue of shows about life in the theater and the struggle to follow your dreams in the performing arts. From time to time, we need to experience this “one singular sensation!”
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Contains adult content and language. Strobe effects are used in this production.
“A Chorus Line” runs through March 10, 2024 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, MD 21044. For more information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 410-730-8311 Monday-Saturday, 10 am – 8 pm and Sunday, 10 am – 7 pm or go online.