THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Chorus Line’ at the Mac-Haydn Theater in Chathm

The Company in “rehearsal”. Photo by Ann Kielbasa.

A chorus line
Mac Haydn Theater in Chatham, New York
Written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, directed by Eddie Gutiérrez

“To commit suicide in Buffalo would be redundant.”

When people come to New York to get into professional theater, they leave behind their prejudices about where they come from. Unless, of course, they come from the city itself. In by Michael Bennett homage to theater dancers, the two genres are brought together for an extended audition session with a director/choreographer who believes that only fools who will come clean can assume the complicated anonymity of the performing world: the chorus of a show where no one is special except the star. Twenty-one dancers compete for eight places: four girls, four boys. For most of them, this show is all that matters. Nothing matters but getting the job and for two hours and forty minutes the intimate spectacle of forces rages on the bare stage of a Broadway house. For us, the audience witnessing the drama, the melodrama, the comedy and the spirit of these young people is something we will never see again when the show they want to be in opens and we go the see. They will become the dancing and singing wallpaper that will make the supernovas shine. But here, in this show about them, we discover that the gloss is actually their reflection in the mirror. On the stage of Mac Haydn Theater in Chatham, they all shine brightly, almost blinding us with their unique talents and personalities.

The show’s finale, “One”, with the whole company. Photo by Ann Kielbasa.

The physical drives in this show are exceptional and despite the dancers’ need to blend into one entity, they are all different and difficult to mix. Zach, the director, has a tough job ahead of him, made even tougher by the needy presence of his ex-girlfriend/lover who is auditioning for the choir after being a star performer, a long way from his choir debut. Zach is played by Gabe Belyeu in a smoother, smoother way than I’ve ever seen before and have seen the off-Broadway original, the Broadway transfer, and about eight subsequent productions and the movie. Belyeu gives Zach a modest ego and a determined purpose that he won’t sacrifice for love, even when lost. His Zach is more human than most and it’s harder to see him falling victim to his better judgment, even when he makes his ex work harder than the rest to get lost in the mix of this wallpaper pattern .

She, Cassie, has a long way to go, to strictly obey the rhythm, not to jump her head, to keep the posture and pose under control. Cassie, played by Holly Lauren Dayton, barely survives his verbal assaults. Dayton is beautiful and there is a romantic atmosphere around it. Her costume has a sexuality of its own; her red hair is alluring and her dance solo is a grueling exercise in self-seduction. Her conversation with Zach is poignant and pungent; it adds an aroma of sentiment and sacrament to the spectacle. Dayton delivers in the dance, “The Music and The Mirror”, as well as in his much shorter monologue, a combination that made a star of Donna McKechnie in 1975. But Cassie’s story isn’t the only one that emerges from this show about and based on real people.

Holly Lauren Dayton as Cassie. Photo by Ann Kielbasa.

There are two other characters who experience overwhelming growth during the show’s action hours: Paul San Marco and Diana Moralez, both young Puerto Ricans, born and raised in the Bronx. Zach forced every contestant on the show to speak candidly about themselves. It’s easy for Morales but difficult for Paul. When he finally does what he was asked to do, it’s a hugely important moment for him, a moving confession about his life and his delicate relationship with his parents and his father’s first acceptance of the difficult existence of his son. Anthony Velez delivers Paul’s story with a genuinely reflective sentimentality that gives it added meaning and heart. Isabella Vargas’ Morales has a journey in this show; she goes from being a high school girl in the song “Nothing” to being the voice of every performer on this show and the entire profession in her second-act song “What I Did for Love.” The only character with two major songs, Diana Moralez is almost Cassie and Zach’s equal and the show is almost hers. Vargas is wonderful in her numbers and overall. His strong, interpretive renditions of these songs bring the show into the realm of a morality tale, a Hans Christian Andersen story with a moral and meaning beyond the dancers’ basic push at an audition looking for work. Vargas and Velez are faithful to the written word and yet go above and beyond to show us what humanity really is.

There are some memorable characters in this show. Among them, Sheila, a 30-year-old dancer who is perhaps at her last audition, deliciously portrayed by Zoe Schneider Smith; Bebe, played by Jasmine Bassham; and Maggie, Anne Langlois. The three of them break our hearts in the song “At the Ballet”.

Harrison Asher Smith’s pompous Gregory is notable, as is Kylan Ross’ Al, especially in his song with Al’s wife, Kristine, performed by Julia Hajar. Still, it’s this show’s sheer variety of personalities and types that allows for a wonderful set of players to achieve ultimate reality here.

I openly admit to loving this show. I knew some of the people whose stories were brought to the workshop that created “A Chorus Line”. I personally experienced some of the trauma that makes up the plot. Director Eddie Gutierrez did a great job bringing the show to this space, and the newly rebuilt theater, with sleek seating, is the perfect place to be a part of the musical’s legacy. Andrew Gmoser brilliantly lit up the show and musical director David Thatcher Maglione brought his six-piece band into the show making beautiful music from start to finish. I wholeheartedly recommend this show to everyone.

“A Chorus Line” plays at the Mac-Haydn Theater, on Route 203 in Chatham, NY until July 3. For more information and tickets, call 518-392-9292 or visit their website.

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