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A Chorus Line Review

Casting Call

Address: 54520 Nave Drive
Novato, CA 94949
Phone: 415-883-4498

A Chorus Line—Stepping Out

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Fred Deneau

Finding a place on stage is a challenge in the world of Broadway musicals, where lower-ranked performers compete for a finite number of roles. An audience rarely sees beyond the glitz and glamor of a polished production, but in a change of pace, A Chorus Line takes the genre itself and makes an audition the subject of a musical. In doing so, it give an inside look into the process that goes into casting a chorus line. Based on a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, the stage production has music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, it takes a unique approach that won the original production, which debuted Off Broadway in 1975, several Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. And now it’s the Novato Theatre Company’s season opener, in a finely-hone production with Marilyn Izdebki as director.

The beauty of A Chorus Line lies in the way it takes individuals who are usually part of a homogeneous whole in the background on stage and gives each an identity. The story begins with a stage full of hopefuls who are trying out for the touring production of a Broadway show. Off stage, but with a powerful presence is Zach, played by Gregory Crane, who is conducting the audition. Although he does step onto the stage at crucial moments, most of the time, the audience hears rather than sees him. Without appearance and body language to support the role, voice is crucial, and Crane delivers effectively with a business-like tone as he instructs hopefuls and makes cuts and emotion as he expresses frustration at some points and compassion at others.

In an unusual turn for an audition, Zach asks all of the performers to talk about themselves, going beyond their identity as performers to give insight into who they are as individuals. Some handle the task easily, and others are reluctant, but it gives everyone his or her moment in the spotlight. Thus, we see Jannely Calmell as Kristine, a dancer who nervously tries to sing as she confesses to being tone deaf. Amanda Morando as Val laments that her body is more important that her talent in “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” And Paul recounts the story of his life, ultimately breaking down and earning Zach’s compassion. Deborah Ann Spake (right) is Cassie, in a key role as dancer who has had a personal relationship with Zach, and despite her obvious talent, has to convince him to consider her for a place in the lineup. The cast is large, as an audition would be, and only eight dancers make the cut, but that’s the reality of life on Broadway.

Marilyn Izdebski’s directing is masterful, coordinating a large cast on a small stage with everyone in the right place at the right time and bringing out the best in each performer. The emotions on display are heartfelt, and the musical numbers, with musical direction by Judy Wisen, are appealing. The Novato Theatre Company’s production of A Chorus Line gets the new season off to a fine start.

A Chorus Line plays 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday through September 30 at Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato, Admission is $18 to $30. For more information, go to novatotheatercompany.org or call 415-883-4498.