Waiting for the doors to open to the theatre Peg and I ate a cookie and looked at the art and posters around the lobby of Tacoma Little Theatre. I glanced at the poster for A Chorus Line and stopped at the name James Kirkland, Jr. The image of a paperback book popped into my mind: There Must Be a Pony. I bought it at the little mom and pop grocery store in Ponder’s Corner somewhere around 1961. My parents owned La Casa Motel, which was just a little over a hundred yards away. I read and kept the book until I married in 1966 and moved to North Yakima, just a block away from Tacoma Little Theatre.
The book for A Chorus Line was written by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante. I never realized until now in 2020 this minor connection to the musical, but it emphasizes the power of the both the written word AND the acted word in theatre.
I was thinking that Peg and I bought the CD for A Chorus Line in 1977 two years after the musical opened in New York. (Even though CDs didn’t come out until 1982.) Memories aren’t always correct. I looked in our musical cupboard and found our Original Broadway Cast album from 1975. I remember my wife playing the music in our kitchen and singing the songs. Our kids loved the music as well. We recall taking them to see the musical in Seattle at the Fifth Avenue. I hope it’s true. (Peg: Yes, it’s true!) Thursday evening we saw the final dress rehearsal of TLT’s latest production: A Chorus Line. What a great cast. I sat down and played “What I Did for Love” on piano that afternoon before seeing the musical.
“Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love”
– Edward Kleban
“The original Broadway production ran for 6,137 performances, becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history until surpassed by Cats in 1997, and the longest-running Broadway musical originally produced in the US, until surpassed in 2011 by the revival of Chicago. It remains the seventh longest-running Broadway show ever.” – Wikipedia
Sunday, we saw A Chorus Line a second time. It was even better.
The first act starts with the lights coming up on stage and revealing what looks like thirty or forty people dancing on stage, but this is an optical illusion. They are dancing with a backdrop of full-length mirrors that run the entire distance across the stage. A Broadway musical audition is playing out for us. Soon the cast is singing the song “I Hope I Get It,” meaning the actors/dancers are auditioning for a part and they want a job in the chorus. The plaintive phrase “I really need this job,” is repeated several times over. Soon the director is calling the hopefuls to share who they are. This deepens into the personal stories of who they are and what experiences they have had.
The heart-warming and sometimes funny personal stories make up the majority of Act One and the opening of Act Two. It’s the individual stories that illustrate the driving force of show people. “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” reflects the problem of Val (played by Melanie Gladstone) who couldn’t get selected. She gets a look at an audition score card and soon she has her breasts and butt augmented by plastic surgery and lands parts in various productions. Val does a great job telling her story and dancing to the song, which is usually referred to as “Tits and Ass.” A second favorite is “At the Ballet” performed by Sheila (played by Heather Malroy), Bebe (played by Lisa Kelly), and Maggie (played by Cynthia Ryan). All three had rotten home lives, “But everything was beautiful at the ballet.” The trio blended nicely. You just wanted to reach out to them and give them hope. One of my favorite songs brought to life by Zach Edson as Mike was “I Can Do That.” As a four-year old he began tagging along with his sister to dance class until she finally refused to go. He took advantage of her refusal, grabbed her tights and shoes and decided his future as he took her place. On stage he did a soft-shoe tap dance number ending with a cartwheel and low-fives with the entire chorus line. The audience responded with wild applause.
One of the funniest bits was performed by Nick Fitzgerald as Bobby. Bobby tells of his upper-middle class family in upstate New York. He used to break into houses, not to steal, but to rearrange the furniture. He’s gay and had considered suicide, but thought suicide and living in Buffalo was redundant.
Peg and I loved the married couple Kristine and Al (played by Valentine Fry and Josh Wingerter). Kristine is not only shy, but she can’t sing. Al and the company assist her. They are so cute together. We’ve seen Josh perform in Seattle and at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and have known his parents for decades.
Cassie (played by Whitney Shafer) has a history with the director. She was catapulted out of the chorus years before and has been languishing ever since. She longs to return to the chorus where she feels comfortable. She has a nice solo dancing just for herself. Her greatest wish is to stay in the chorus for as long as she can.
The director questions the cast hopefuls about what they will do when they must leave the chorus. Diana (played by Keola Holt) and the company sing the heartfelt song of longing and loss as they must decide on a future that doesn’t include the theatre. “What I Did for Love” is the answering realization of what comes next.
“One” is the finale. “One singular sensation, every little step she takes.”
This production was directed and choreographed by Eric Clausell. We last saw him in the play Art at Tacoma Arts Live. The music direction was by Jeff Bell. The artistic staff all deserve a standing ovation. The cast got one.
A Chorus Line runs thru the 29th, but don’t wait until the last performance . . . you might want to see this production again . . . and again. Get your tickets soon – tix4.centerstageticketing.com/sites/tacomalittletheatre/showdates.php?s_id=298
If you are lucky enough to attend a performance with the actors coming out to meet you in the lobby, by all means talk to the actors and tell them how much you enjoyed the play. It’s a singular sensation . . . (seen here are Melanie Gladstone and Loucas T. Curry).
Sharry O'Hara says
Hi Don! A little “Chorus Line” factoid–Micheal O’Hara, playing Zach played Al de Luca, the Josh Wingerter role in this production. It was the first time I ever saw him on stage. That was at Pierce College when they opened their own theatre on campus. Needless to say, just like you, this show tugs at my heart for so many reasons…..the “Gold Finale” with each dancer entering with a repeat combination, taking a bow, mirrors turning, the kick line and “A Chorus Line” sign, emblazoned with marquee lights transported me into a state of theatre euphoria!
Don Doman says
Thanks for commenting.
I love connections . . . and when I love a production I watch and re-watch . . . and watch again. Isn’t that what theatre is about? I really liked the individual stories, but I wish there had been a press photo of the trio doing At the Ballet and Mike doing I Can Do That! We saw the last rehearsal and the then the 2:00 o’clock on Sunday . . . and considering going back one more time. Unfortunately productions overlap.
Thanks for sharing . . . a lovely connection.
This is a fabulous production-professional on every level. Please continue to support local live theatre. In these tough times, let these talented and very sweet performers show you the power of theatre and music to not only enlighten and entertain, but bring much-needed comfort and catharsis. Brava tutti!
Don Doman says
I agree, however both TLT and Tacoma Musical Playhouse have decided to cease operations until late April. I’ll probably write an article about the theaters coordinating their decisions. I hate to see so much beautiful work left unseen, but life goes on.