There was a memorable moment following last night’s opening of “A Chorus Line” at Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke when five grown men were lined up at the urinals in the MMT bathroom, all humming, whistling or singing “Singular Sensation.”
That, if nothing else, will tell you it was a memorable performance. And, indeed, it was.
The jammed house experienced a packed stage of fully energized singers and dancers as diverse as theater professionals and high school seniors (mostly the former) nailing this 1975 Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner to the wall.
When late in the two-hour long, one-act marathon, Lizz Picini (as Cassie) performs her solo, the theater was deathly quiet until her bow, when the audience nearly exploded with appreciation of an extraordinary moment.
And, of course, there is the show-stopping “Singular Sensation,” the production’s trademark, performed several times, including–in full show costume, when the actors take their final bow.
MMT’s “A Chorus Line” (music by Marvin Hamlish and lyrics by Edward Kleban) is ably directed by Alicia Varcoe, assistant artistic director of the theater, and choreographed by New York City-based professional Kristen Brooks Sandler.
“A Chorus Line” looks at a single evening in the lives of nearly 20 struggling would-be Broadway dancers, who have not made it past the bottom level of dance performance. If this were baseball, they’d all be in Class A and at one point in the play, the analogy is made. Baseball is probably the most cruel of professional sports in that Major League teams sign far, far more players than they need each year, assigning them to lower leagues from which the vast majority will not emerge, lingering in the lower leagues for 5, 10 years before finally understanding the truth.
The dancers’ stories are told, one-by-one, most of them sad, some of them desperate. Cassie, for example, is a dancer who at one point appeared to have made it, but slipped back and now just wants to start over, working for a director who was a lover, one who broke her heart.
One interesting note: the play features four Patrick Henry High School students, including senior Cathleen Turner who has been in eight main stage performances. Also featured is Franklin County native Mary Hannah Garber, who performs the risque “Dance: Ten; Looks, Three,” which gets to the heart (or, more precisely, the T&A) of the perceived value of the play’s women performers. You might want to cover your children’s ears during this one.
The language in the play is mature and you may want to consider that some pretty blunt vulgarity is used throughout. Frankly, I’m not sure how good the play would be without that vulgarity, but my guess is that it won a Pulitzer minus the “F” word and a sprinkling of “goddamns” initially. Just a guess, but in 1975, things were a little less expressive.
In any case, the evening was a delight in every sense. One side benefit: you get the opportunity to pick your favorite dancer/singer and follow that actor throughout (mine was was tall, talented Megan Tatum of Chester, VA, and a William & Mary grad. Her day job is as a physical therapist to ballet and theater companies).
(Photos: top, Richard Maddox photography; April Parker Photography, lower.)