A Chorus Line

by | Sep 1, 2022

By Nick Pilgrim

The Cardinia Performing Arts Company (CPAC) is an award-winning team which recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary. Located in Melbourne’s outer south-east, previous shows performed by the community theatre group include:

  • The Boy From Oz
  • Kinky Boots
  • Legally Blonde
  • Little Shop Of Horrors
  • Mamma Mia
  • Priscilla – Queen Of The Dessert
  • Strictly Ballroom
  • The Wedding Singer

Just to name a few.

Always with an eye on crowd-pleasing entertainment, CPAC’s latest choice is no exception.

A Chorus Line has a fascinating history. The show was developed from a series of tape recordings, voiced by a small group of professional dancers about their respective pathways to Broadway. From there, the potential of this collective experience was envisioned as a live musical. Workshopped for almost a year, the show became both a critical success and box-office juggernaut. New York City, and musical theatre in general had never seen anything like it.

Upon opening, A Chorus Line sweep the 1976 Tony Awards, winning for:

  • Best Musical
  • Leading Actress in a Musical (Donna McKechnie as Cassie)
  • Featured Actor in a Musical (Sammy Williams as Paul)
  • Featured Actress in a Musical (Kelly Bishop as Sheila)
  • Best Book of a Musical (James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante)
  • Best Choreography (Michael Bennett and Bob Avian)
  • Best Direction of a Musical (Michael Bennett)
  • Best Lighting Design (Tharon Musser)
  • Best Original Score (Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban)

It should be noted that the show also earned nominations for Featured Actor in a Musical (Robert LuPone as Zach), Featured Actress in a Musical (Priscilla Lopez as Diana), and Best Costume Design (Theoni V. Aldredge).

Soon, multiple tours sprang up in the United States, London’s West End, and around the world. A Chorus Line also became the longest-running musical on Broadway before that record was eventually smashed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. (I was fortunate enough to see the first Australian production in 1978, and the 2012 revival both at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne.)

In an age when punters demand more bang for their buck, these days A Chorus Line is rarely produced. Told in real time and for the most part on a bare stage, the show still has a great deal to offer. A gripping narrative combined with memorable tunes and dynamic dance numbers, what makes A Chorus Line unique is that audience members are an integral part of the experience. (This is especially the case at Cranbourne’s Community Theatre where viewers sit up close and personal with the action.)

Auditions are something rarely, if ever witnessed by the paying public.  A private exchange between performers, directors, and producers, this selection process can be brutal and nerve-wracking at the best of times. With tremendous scope for layered drama, no wonder A Chorus Line’s creators saw its future potential.

CPAC’s own vision was met with numerous challenges. COVID lockdowns forced two postponements, along with several key eleventh-hour replacements when two cast members could no longer be in the show.

In the company’s capable hands, some of the many highlights include:

  • The heart-pounding opening number, “I Hope I Get It”
  • Michael Zinner’s acrobatic turn as Mike in “I Can Do That”
  • Greg’s bizarre sense of humour played to the limit by Lukas Masterson
  • Sheila’s street smarts and requisite sass courtesy of Cathy Lee Lord
  • Scarlett Matulec (as Bebe) and Cara Woolger (as Maggie) joining Lord and expressing what it means to dance in the song, “At The Ballet”
  • Rachel Nakamura’s hilarious dilemma (as Connie) for looking years younger than her actual birth age
  • Trystan Warren-Smith’s lady-killing swagger (as Don)
  • Katherine Gloss (as Diana) wondering if she has the acting chops to make it
  • Delaney McGill (as Kristine) and Cohen Hendrikx (as Al) milking the comedy of “Sing!” for all its worth
  • Stephanie Haigh’s playful ode to cheeky cosmetic enhancement as Val in, “Dance: Ten – Looks: Three”
  • Paul’s gripping monologue, as presented by Luke Crossett, was simply breathtaking. In achieving the right pacing and tone, this is such a difficult speech to tackle well. Crossett made this a standout moment to remember.
  • The Ensemble’s touching group number, “What I Did For Love”
  • The Finale, “One”, which summarises the overall experience with precise choreographic teamwork, slick lighting, and stunning costume design.

Nicole Everett (as Cassie) and Jonno Sebastian (as Zach) are the glue which tie A Chorus Line together.

Their characters’ shared professional and romantic history is detailed centred stage in an explosive series of events. Cassie, desperate for work after a stint in Hollywood flatlines, crashes his audition in the hope of finding her feet again.

Everett is a standout, not only for the iconic red dress she wears like a declaration of war, but for the emotional depth she brings to this role. You feel her character’s pain, sense of past failure, yet stubborn determination to win Zach over through ‘The Music and the Mirror’. This section highlights Cassie as his former muse and lover, and Everett delivers. Sebastian, driven out of the dark and up on stage in frustration, is her emotional match.  Together, their chemistry together is raw, present, and real.

Georgie Walker, singing as Young Cassie, provides a significant key into her character’s hopeful past. In Walker’s hands, she radiates fresh innocence and future potential combined.

(A fascinating sidenote can be found via Donna McKechnie’s autobiography. In ‘Time Steps’, the author details how her rocky relationship with Michael Bennett, formed the basis for Zach and Cassie.)

Lee Geraghty directs with fluidity and flair, making this journey very much a sensory feast and worthy emotional investment.

She is supported by Scott Hili’s tight choreography, constructed to showcase, and bring out the best in each of the performers. Hili is also responsible for flashy costume and intelligent, minimalist set design. That he gets Everett to help operate the turning mirror’s during her big dance number adds extra dimension to the moment.

(Geraghty and Hili also joined forces as co-producers.)

Musical Director, Kent Ross conducts the seventeen-strong (live yet unseen) orchestra with aplomb.  Kudos to CPAC for choosing this ambitious route, producing a full-bodied sound at the same time.

Rounding out the technical support, Lighting Design is by Tamara Boag, Sound Design by Nicholas Alards, and Stage Management by Deana Jacobs.

The confident cast and vast production crew must be thanked as a whole, for their commitment and determination. Community theatre is very much about how it takes a village to bring any production to life. In this instance, CPAC presents a show filled with tremendous heart and soul.

A Chorus Line completes its season at Cranbourne Community Theatre this Saturday on September 3.

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