Originally Choreographed, and Directed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlish, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed for Turtle Lane by Chris Cardoni
Choreographed by Lauren Quinn
Music Director Wayne Ward
Turtle Lane Playhouse, through June 1999
Turtle Lane Playhouse has mounted an exciting, effective and affecting production of the ultimate backstage musical, "A Chorus Line. The Playhouse has every reason to be proud-- this production, staged in a space where the dancers can barely be shoehorned into a single line, and for sight lines that cut most of them off at the knees, successfully conveys the essence of the show's choreography and the potent magic of the aspiration it embodies. Turtle Lane's version compares favorably to the original, and to the road company I saw some few years later here in Boston. Now, I'm not saying the dancing is absolutely first rate: it isn't. But the show is about what it is like to devote one's life to the pursuit of a particular sort of perfection, the intricately patterned unison movement of the corps de ballet or the Rockettes. This is an odd vision-- the perfection of a machine. But what makes it a spiritual quest is the artistic necessity to achieve it while maintaining at the same time the capacity for individual expressiveness When an assortment of personalities and physical types manage to merge, the achievement is thrilling-- as it is at Turtle Lane. A cookie cutter cartoon animator's version of perfect unison would be a symbol for mindless conformity-- it would bore or frighten rather than thrill. Turtle Lane's unison line is made from more than usually disparate parts, and it is good enough to stand in for the ideal.
The plot of "A Chorus Line" is simple, as simple as the basic experience on which a show dancer's brief career is based. A director (Chris Cardoni) -- called Zach in the script but recognized by insiders as Michael Bennett, the brilliant dancer choreographer-psychologist-facilitator-exploiter-showwright who made the piece at Joseph Papp's Publick Theatre-- is auditioning "girls" and "boys" for a new Broadway musical. His dance captain, Louise (Lauren Quinn), teaches the dancers a routine, and they repeat it together and in small groups, to criticism.. We, watching, see what a difference context makes-- whether a dancer is in the front line or in back, the physique and technique of the dancers on either side, the encouragement or otherwise of the director's remarks. There will be more remarks and instructions and searching personal questions; opportunities to shine or mess up, individually and as part of a group: as long as they are here, everything they say and do matters. At the end of the session, most of them will be rejected, and eight of them will get the job that every one of them is qualified for and every one of them desperately wants. "I Hope I Get It!", they sing, and, ready for the next stage of the process, the twenty some survivors line up across the front of the stage holding up their headshots/resumes.
Outside, offstage, are the hundreds of qualified applicants who have already been rejected, and the thousands of hopefuls who haven't even made it to the audition. The eight winners will begin rehearsal on a new show, one which they have no assurance will make a worthy use of their talents, and one which has a less than even chance of lasting past opening night. But hope springs eternal, and the reward is a peak experience under the lights: being perfect, at one with the music and the choreography and the other bodies and souls on the line-- and being seen and affirmed in that perfection by the audience.
Once Zach has checked out how well the dancers adapt and conform, he interviews each of them to discover the flavor of the individual personality. It's a small chorus, and some of them will have a few lines in the show. Can they project a persona across the footlights? Will it be the sort of personality an audience wants to see? Are they personally the sort that the rest of the cast and crew will find easy to work with, or potential troublemakers? The director's disembodied voice from the auditorium asks: "When and why did you decide to be a dancer?" Now, there have been eras and societies in which that would be a silly question. Everyone who is not majorly disabled would be a dancer-- dancing is as natural as walking or running; and a lot more fun. But "being a dancer" here and now means that one is a special case. For females, there is the ideal of beauty celebrated "At The Ballet". For males, it is an alternative to the hyper masculinity of bullies and jocks. For all the performers, it seems to be about finding an identity and applause within a new group after being rejected by peers and/or family. For the audience, it is a great opportunity to say "Yes!" We recognize you, we know who you are, and we approve. We're all in this together.
I won't say that the Turtle Lane performers' dancing is as polished as that in a big budget production. Their synchronization isn't perfect. Like most star-struck suburbans who do community theatre, they may log far more on stage time than than their New York brethren, but their class work is likely to be much less arduous. Collectively, they are far better at unique than at unison. The perfection of an every-limb-identical chorus has to stay metaphorical, rather than literal as it may be on a literal Broadway-house stage. But a Broadway chorus or a Ballenchine corps de ballet is only one of the imperfect instances of the Platonic form "Dance". For most of the real "kids", the professionals whose confessional life-stories Bennett and company integrated into the original script, Broadway wasn't the inspiration. Their stories don't reveal a specific passion to be Broadway dancers. Most of them were inspired by dancing that they saw on television or in the movies. This is not surprising: Broadway is a minority theatre, aimed at the middle aged and financially well off. Few kids get taken to Broadway shows where they can see show dancing live and in a proscenium that frame when they are of an age to be particularly susceptible to it and also young enough to start the training they need to be able some day to do it themselves. The present generation is more likely to be inspired by MTV.
However they were inspired, the Turtle Lane cast earned the tears and bravos their audience accorded them As Cassie, (Kimber Lynn Drake) Zach's ex girlfriend who was almost a star and is now determined to go back into the chorus-- says of her fellow auditionees, "They are all special." Here are their names: Peter Adams, Peter Allen, .Jerry Boling, Erin Burke, Bridget Rouhan, Jennifer Condon Gagno, Casey Connolly, Linda Goetz, Michael Gonzales, Chrisanto Guadiz, .Tim Harvey, Michael Hogman, Marcie Lewis,.Christopher Mack, George McCarthy,.Jessica Shulman, Linda Sughrue, Chihiro Takeuchi, Kimberly Thomas, Holly Wade, and a special mention for Jonelle Margallo, whose Diana Moralles is ALMOST too good to be in a chorus, even one where she gets the solo in "What I Did For Love". Speaking of doing it for love, also deserving of praise are the truly selfless Pit Singers, invisible contributors who usually play leads: Diana Doyle, Susan Walsh, Chuck Walsh. The usual Turtle Lane team provided Scenic Design ( Ronald L. Dion) Lighting (Larry Devlin) Sound (William Shamlian) Costumes (Richard Itezak), and they were so good one never noticed them. Ditto Wayne Ward's orchestra:Colleen Henry, Rob Orr, Steve Jonakos, Louis Toth, Ray Taranto, Ernie Sola, Karen Dickson, Beb John, Tom Hovey, Jeff Hoefler, Harlan Feinstein, and Brian Troiano.