Theater review: A Chorus Line

Photo courtesy of Asheville Community Theatre

The musical A Chorus Line ran on Broadway from 1975 to 1990 and won practically every award that existed for theater during its run. Asheville Community Theatre’s production is presented by Aloft, and runs through Sunday, March 1. It’s directed by Chanda Calentine with musical direction by Gary Mitchell and choreography by Tina Pisano-Foor.

Mother-daughter team Becky and Cicely Upham reviewed the local show:

Becky: When the curtain rises, we’re at final auditions for the dancing chorus in a new Broadway show. The structure of the play is pretty basic: The director cuts the cast of hopefuls to 17 and they remain onstage as he calls out each one, asking them to tell him something about his or her life. For the most part, the questions have nothing to do with dancing or resumes, and would most definitely be frowned upon by most HR departments.

The opening scene felt exciting and slightly chaotic to me, which I think is part of the idea. The stage did seem a little too crowded, but the first cuts were made early on and that gave everyone a little breathing room.

Cicely: I loved the set. Behind the line of bodies there was a giant mirror, large enough that the audience could see its own reflection. I thought this was a cool touch given that the show is set up as if these actors are auditioning for those watching the show.

Becky: Yes, I liked the subway car and lights that were projected. It gave it the New York City vibe.

Cicely: Never having seen the show, I was immediately struck by how large the cast was. It must be a very difficult show to cast, and even with Asheville’s rockin’ arts scene this musical was a bold choice.

Becky: Definitely. This is technically a very difficult play for a community theater to take on, and I’m glad ACT made the leap … if you get my drift. To find so many actors in our relatively small community who can dance, sing and act is no small feat.

That being said, it did take me a little while to relax and enjoy the show. Maybe because several actors did not physically meet the ideal image of a professional dancer, either in body type or posture, there was a little bit of trepidation on my part — like, are they going to be able to pull this off? I was nervous for them.

I felt a lot better after Taylor Aldrich sang the song “Nothing” that pokes fun at method acting and a particularly harsh teacher. She had a great stage presence and a fantastic voice. That was the moment when I really began to enjoy myself.

Photo courtesy of ACT
Photo courtesy of ACT

Cicely: One of my favorite songs in the show was song before that, “I Can Do That,” which told the light and witty story of a male tapper’s beginning in dance. It kind of made me wish one of my brothers had gone to dance classes in my place.

Becky: Yes, how awesome would that have been — Becky Upham, Stage Mother! Oh well. I’ll add that to the “Unfulfilled Dreams” journal that I started the year after I graduated high school.

Cicely: Sorry to have disappointed you.

Becky: Maybe because of the structure of the play — a collection of individuals trying out for a spot and completing against each other — there weren’t really any relationships between the characters. I found the love story/back story of between Cassie, a former rising star who now found herself back trying out as a chorus dancer, and Zach, the director, a little lacking. But one reason this play broke all sorts of records and was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama is because it’s not your typical fluffy musical romance. The themes of the play — fear of rejection, aging out of relevance or your profession, and how art and pain are inextricably intertwined — are meaningful to everyone.

Cicely: There were times when I felt hypercritical. Since I knew we were reviewing the show, I was already jotting down notes and being extra observant. Paired with the fact that these actors were performing as if they were auditioning, I inadvertently cast myself in the role of an unqualified casting director. Although it was a show, I felt as if I was the one who was going to make those final cuts. I caught myself thinking “she’s a keeper” or “that kick could’ve been higher.” I almost wish I could see it again and enjoy everything without that critical eye.

Becky: You can see it again! It’s playing until March 1! I also think this is a great show for tweens and older. Yes, there are a few profanities and some sexual references, but no one gets hurt except for maybe a bad ankle sprain. “Hello, Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” could be the ice breaker you’ve been looking for to talk to your kids about changes in their bodies. And it’s a little U.S. history lesson in change — feminism, homosexuality, cosmetic surgery, leg warmers…

How many times can you find all that and great songs? I’ve been singing “One singular sensation” in my head all week.

Cicely: It really is just a fun show. So many great dance numbers and musical solos. But Mom, we should warn them…

Becky: I think you’re right.

Cicely: There is no intermission. Empty that bladder early, folks. This is a one-act show but it lasts a little more than two hours. No set changes and never a dull moment, so there really is no good time to duck out. We won’t tell your doctor if you only go for six glasses of water that day.

Becky: Yes, so go easy on the fluids but definitely buy your tickets soon. It’s a very fun night at the theater.

Shows are Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays, at 2:30 p.m. $15-$25.

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