“God I hope I get it. I hope I get it!”- The words playing on repeat inside the brain of every performer during an audition, and the theme of the opening number in the musical A CHORUS LINE, now playing at The Heights Players in Brooklyn Heights. With any community theater show, the production value and talent level can run the gamut from spectacular to downright awful. However, The Heights Players, now celebrating its 57th season, has created an entertaining and thoughtful production of a very complex show.
A CHORUS LINE was groundbreaking when it hit Broadway in 1975, winning nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, with gorgeous music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. You are probably familiar with such ACL classics as “What I Did For Love” and “One” (and if you haven’t watched ‘Every Little Step’, the documentary about the casting process for the 2006 ACL revival, DO IT. NOW! Lots and lots of good history, and insight). The show itself follows seventeen dancers auditioning for a new Broadway show; each character gets a chance to share his or her story through a variety of monologues, montages, and solos. This production does a particularly great job of giving every performer a chance to shine, including the “cut dancers” who usually disappear after the opening number. Instead, director Thomas N. Tyler brings the ensemble members back to animate some of the actors’ life stories (Mr. Karp’s acting class, Don’s stripper friend Lola, etc.). They may have returned a few too many times for my taste, but I appreciated the attempt to include everyone as much as possible.
The venue is located inside a charming old church, and the stage is a three quarters thrust, with audience members on three sides of the stage (the house was PACKED, by the way). Mr. Tyler deftly stages the numbers so that all sections of the audience can see the main action (gotta use those diagonals!). The space is small, so when I heard the live musicians warming up, I got a little worried that the music was going to overpower the singing. Fortunately, I could clearly hear every word and note, even without any voice amplification (Note: I had seats in the center section. I don’t think I would have heard as well if I had seats in the house-right section, by the musicians). Though the director had obviously directed in the space before and did his best to creatively fit the cast, the stage was just too small for the big group dance numbers. The stage was waaaay too crowded during the opening sequence, the montage, and the finale. It was a nice try, though.
The talent level varied among the cast members, which was to be expected. I could definitely tell who were the “dancers” and who were not; who were the semi-professionals, and who were not; who fit the very specific character types on “the line”, and who did not. Karen Mascolo as Maggie is an absolute stand out. She does not look like the typical Maggie, but her voice is DYNAMITE. Her smooth belt-mix soars in “At the Ballet” (my absolute favorite!) and she vocally anchors all of the ensemble songs. Marissa Giglio is delightful as Bebe, and Tom Giancursio maintains a good balance between tough and compassionate as haughty director Zach.
The role of Cassie, the veteran dancer who is desperate for a dancing job after a failed tv/film career in Hollywood, is always the most difficult to cast. Desiree Justin does an exceptional job. Her acting and singing choices are spot on, but I wish we hadn’t seen her working so hard in “The Music and the Mirror”. It is a beast of a number, lasting seven or eight minutes, and pushes the actor physically and emotionally. I am not an ACL purist, so I do not cringe at the idea of abandoning parts of the original choreography (Gasp! BLASPHEMY!). If you don’t have the dancers, don’t do it! I’d rather the actors look really fantastic with simpler steps. Even the most seasoned performers cannot successfully embody the original flow and intensity of Michael Bennett’s iconic choreography. I wish we could have seen what Desiree does best in “The Music and the Mirror”, not what Donna McKechnie did best 40 years ago.
Overall, I had a lovely evening with The Heights Players. To me, community theater is all about giving people who love to perform a chance to be in a show. This cast includes a nurse, several teachers, an editor, a lawyer, and I think that is really fantastic. Is it the best production of A CHORUS LINE I’ve ever seen? No. Did the audience still love it? Yes. And in this case, I think that’s all that really matters.
Love and Good Seats,
A CHORUS LINE
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood, Jr., and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Thomas N. Tyler
May 10-26, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays: May 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25 at 8:00 p.m.
Sundays: May 12, 19 and 26 at 2:00 p.m.
Click here to reserve tickets.
The Heights Players
26 Willow Place
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone: (718) 237-2752