Though it debuted more than 40 years ago, "A Chorus Line" remains both entertaining and relevant to today's theater-goers. Given the increasingly competitive job market—with application processes that often feel like Broadway tryouts—Shore Thing Productions' take on the award-winning musical aims to resonate with modern-day audiences.
Broadway veteran Michael Heaton, who was just getting his career off the ground in New York when "A Chorus Line" first opened, is directing the production. He says he couldn't say no when asked to direct a show that played a pivotal role in the history of the American Musical Comedy.
According to Heaton, "A Chorus Line" set the genre on its ear by deviating from standard structure. Written by Academy Award winner Marvin Hamlisch, the play centers on 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway musical. In the end only eight will make the cut. Their individual storylines were created from hundreds of hours of taped interviews with real-life aspiring actors and actresses, which became the text of the entire show.
The dialogue and lyrics serve as the backbone of the play and no one character emerges as the star. "There are 17 dancers, the director, choreographer, and the assistant...all of the stories are equally important and poignant," says Heaton.
When asked about his approach to directing the production, Heaton says, "The values I dictated to the cast are that we make it believable and that we respect these stories." Part of achieving believability was in the casting.
"People who auditioned to be chorus kids were in their twenties and their early to mid-thirties," says Heaton. "That can be challenging to cast in Community Theater."
The story also requires talent that can act, dance and sing—or learn to quickly. Cast member Brad Ruder says, "We are not all triple threats. ...we are a hodgepodge of talents and everyone has an area that is a challenge to them."
According to choreographer Michelle Mejaski, more than 40 people attended the open auditions for the production and at least half were cut. "When I started to choreograph, I knew I wanted to do something beyond a beginning level of dance. This does need to look like it could be a Broadway audition," says Mejaski.
Along with believability, staying true to the intent of the original show was important to Heaton. "I want the audience to be able to identify with what is happening, regardless of what they do for a living," says Heaton. "It is about a life passage we've all gone through. We may go through it differently, but underneath the surface application, it's the same turmoil."
While "A Chorus Line" is full of laugh lines, Heaton's goal was to get at the empathy lying just beneath the lines. "You can come and listen for the tits and ass jokes if you don't want to think, but I've always tried to direct to the folks who want to think." says Heaton. "This is not just a show about fun and giggles, the milieu might not be understandable to everyone, but the message is universal."
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