Tuesday 22 August 2017

A Chorus Line presents apt Millennial messages
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Earning a living as a professional chorus line dancer is about as likely a choice as thinking your garage band will crush the hit parade charts. But such is the central conceit of the 1975 song-&-dance show A Chorus Line with its music by Marvin Hamlisch.

Two dozen dancers in rehearsal togs hoof it out in bare stage tryouts while they reveal what nagging muse or life experience led them to this sketchy career choice. These are not superstars or divas trying out here, rather a bevy of supporting-role performers who will dance collectively. They are the chorus, not the soloist -- none of them will be allowed even a moment's pirouette in the limelight. And only eight will be selected. All this is the more pertinent because a dozen of the cast are in their debut FCP production, a swack of them second or third year Cap College theatre students or recent grads.
Colourful warm-ups from the troupe of Roy (Brodie Kyle Klassen), Chelsea (Chelsea Huang), Butch (Conor Brand), Tricia (Alina Quarin) and Frank (Thomas Chan) who rehearse a try-out number.
Allyson Fournier photo

Written in the early 70's while the VietNam war raged on and Nixon secretly rained bombs on Cambodia for a full year before admitting it, the show nevertheless fits analogously into our current age of rising Millennials. They also face difficult career and lifestyle choices in the challenging socioeconomic environment of today : e.g. in Canada some 50% of young adults (20-24) still live at home or are boomerang kids -- double the rate of fifty years back.

How it's all put together : The show's narrative structure is an oddity, particularly in an age where "trigger warnings", "safe spaces" and "identity politics" are the norm at college campuses across North America. Because the director of the show-within-a-show Zach (Christopher D. King) asks each of the performers to reveal some spark or catalyst in their history that brought them to this place. He hopes this will help him choose the "four boys, four girls" he ultimately needs for his chorus line troupe to support the principal dancer in an unnamed upcoming New York show. (Even those gender determinants would likely prove controversial in today's LBGTQ social milieu were these "real" theatrical try-outs instead of a meta-play from back then.)

Connie (Jolene Bernardino), Diana (Vanessa Quartino), Val (Sarah Canuta) & Judy (Hailey Fowler) execute some semaphore kicks trying to impress Zach (C. D. King) who is an Oz-like character on-mike in the wings offering encouragement & a priestly shoulder.
Allyson Fournier photo.
Happily there's a Billy Elliot feel afoot here as the kids' "ballet class liberated me" stories pop up regularly. Loneliness, gender confusion, domestic strife, bodies that quit on their owners early and snap career hopes -- these are the tales shared on-stage in word and song. Original director/choreographer Michael Bennett (d. 1987, age 44) collected some 40-hours of audiotape from real-life dancers telling their life histories. Much of the dialogue put together by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante who produced the show's book is reportedly taken verbatim from these recordings about the dancers' agonies and ecstacies pursuing journeyman dancer status, not stardom. The "joyous grind" of night-after-night tightly choreograph'd line-dance routines.

The troupe : all shapes, sizes, colourful get-ups & stories.
Allyson Fournier photo.
Production values that shine through :  Fresh off her FCP directorial debut of Cats at the diminutive Jericho Arts Centre 18 months back that had BLR all in a rave, Rachel Carlson is ACL's director and choreographer. And it is precisely in that realm -- the choreography, blocking & stage presence -- that ACL's strength as a work of performing art does its best on the functional Waterfront stage. The delightfully colourful 2017 rehearsal costumes added a level of visual appeal noticeably absent 40 years back, according to reports. In this show, too, Arielle Ballance's musical direction of her band was nothing shy of kick-ass. 

For its part, the full house at Tuesday's final Preview performance revealed an appreciation and enthusiasm for the energetic effort of these young actors. What they tell is a 40-year-old Broadway story that is not a set-piece classic musical like Music Man or Mary Poppins or Fiddler on the Roof. Rather ACL is a mix of Edward Albee meets Albert Camus meets Harold Pinter meets Bob Fosse. It tells a tale of existential angst where wannabe show dancers in the time of Spiro Agnew and J. Edgar Hoover struggle to make a life performing in musical theatre, which even then was decidedly less a moon in wax than in wane.

N.B. That said, fact is ACL is the 6th longest running musical in Broadway history, with 6,137 performances in its 15-year run between 1975 and 1990. Its popularity arose in that post-Viet Nam era when the excesses of political hubris were front-&-centre on display, when a suppression of individual showmanship for the sake of group survival was a more popular notion than it is now as we witness anew a worldwide rise in populist, alt-right tumescence.  

Who gonna like : In 1980 I performed in a Lerner-Loewe remembrance piece called On The Street Where You Live directed by the late Scott Wheeler at the White Rock Players Club. I never did master the bloody step-ball change dance step required of me, though like Mr. King in this show I managed to hide upstage mostly and do a fakesimile sufficient enough under the circumstances. 

But it is that experience that makes me appreciate this Fighting Chance Production of A Chorus Line the more. No doubt the ACL script shows its age : taking 60+ minutes to have more than a dozen dancers try to relate to their abbreviated life stories is a stretch. But of course the Hamlisch music -- just like the Lerner-Loewe pieces I struggled through nearly 40 years back -- Hamlisch helps make up for how in 2017 the Michael Bennett 1975 existential plot-&-characterizations may fail to fully engage today's dramatic imagination. 

Still, ever had a "jones" in dance, in music, in acting, in writing, in social causes that you'd do in a heartbeat because you love it so much -- or simply because you don't just love it, you need the money, too? If you relate to those kinds of life experiences you will find much that entertains you in this re-mount of an old favourite song-&-dance show. No question it is lovingly and energetically and engagingly presented by an eager team.

Particulars :  Produced by Fighting Chance Productions -- Artistic Director Ryan Mooney. At the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright Street on Granville Island. Until Saturday, September 2nd. Tickets & schedule information via the internet through FCP's website @ http://www.fightingchanceproductions.ca.  Run-time two hours straight, no intermission. 

Production Crew : Director & Choreographer Rachel Carlson.  Musical Director Arielle Ballance.  Assistant Choreographer Hailey Kragelj.  Set Designer Brian Ball.  Lighting Designer Andie Marie Lloyd.  Sound Designer Peter Young.  Costume Designer Rachel Carlson. Stage Manager Kara McLachlan.  Creative Consultant Ryan Mooney. (N.B. Original production conceived by Michael Bennett, then workshopped in collaboration with authors of the show's book, James Kirkwood & Nicolas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban. Directed & choreographed by Michael Bennett with assistance from Bob Avian.)

Performers : Haley Allen (Bebe).  Jesse Alvarez (Paul).  Joline Bernardino (Connie).  Kaden Chad (Al).  Thomas Chan (Frank). Justin Daniels (Mark).  Kailua DeLeon (Lois). Lucia Forward (Cassie). Hailey Fowler (Judy).  Chelsea Huang (Vicki). Christopher D. King (Zach).  Brodie Kyle Klassen (Roy).  Greg Liow (Mike).  Amanda Lourenco (Maggie).  Lindsay Marshall (Val).  Ricardo Cunha Pequenino (Richie).  Ben Platten (Greg).  Alina Quarin (Tricia). Vanessa Quarinto (Diana).  Kailley Roesler (Kristine).  Alishia Suitor (Sheila).  Marcel Tremel (Larry).  Eric Vincent (Bobby).  

Kick-ass Band : Arielle Balance (Piano).  Lindsay Goldberg (Trumpet).  Monica Sumulong (Bass).  Murray Cameron Smith (Drums).  Bryan Vance (Reeds).


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