Michael Bennett Exposes Broadway Dancers’ Anguish & Joy
by Patricia L. Morin
“A Chorus Line” engulfs the audience in radiant Broadway colors, exquisite dance steps, and magnificent songs—a legend in musical theater. Marvin Hamlisch’s music and Edward Klieban’s lyrics live on in “One” and “What I Did for Love.” We still sing these songs under our breath or silently moving our lips.
I am thrilled to be reunited with this 1975 Tony Award winning gem and S.F. Playhouse far surpasses my expectations.
Director Bill English brings it all home with heart.
Michael Bennett’s “A Chorus Line” begins with the frenzied audition of talented dancers who leap, kick, and jump to the syncopated timing of the director’s shouted voice. They are competing for the final coveted eight jobs in a new Broadway show. In “I Hope I Get It,” they desperately sing: “I really need this job / Please God, I need this job / I’ve got to get this job.”
With charming songs, captivating choreography, and emotional monologues, the dancers pursue their dreams. They practice constantly to learn the rigorous conformity of dancing in unison.
As the audition progresses, the diverse group of dancers are unexpectedly asked to share their personal stories. Versatile Keith Pinto plays Zach, the commanding director, who manages to dig deeply into each performer’s heart. As Zach, Pinto holds the show together.
As the show’s choreographer, he demands: “Kick, step, leap step, touch!” As a soft-spoken interviewer, he asks, “What is your name and where are you from?” And as amateur psychologist, he queries, “What brings you here?” Pinto spans these roles naturally and with confidence.
He even faces his “ex-girlfriend” Cassie (lead dancer Nicole Helfer) when she exclaims that she needs the job to return to the stage. Sweet Cassie epitomizes a successful entertainer’s worst problem: “Aging-Out.” What happens when a dancer becomes too old to win a spot?
In the song “The Music and the Mirror,” Helfer elegantly dances solo as the back wall transforms into huge moving mirrors (superb scenic design by Heather Kenyon and Bill English). Michael Oesch’s impressive lighting and Abra Berman’s dazzling sequined costumes also reflect the dancers’ personalities.
This musical touches the essentials: What brings us to our dreams and how we can lose them—a message for us all.
Gay dancer Paul (touching Alex Rodriguez) sings emotionally about being disowned by his parents for being gay. The suppression of gay rights remains a grave social issue, even 40 years after the musical opened. Paul’s moving song “Who Am I Anyway?” reveals gay people’s suffering.
As confused Richie, Chachi Delgado plays a young man with no idea of his future. “In Gimme the Ball,” Delgado sings and dances with phenomenal flexibility and grace, amazing us with his ease.
Award-winning musical director David Dobrusky and his seven-piece band provide sound and timbre. They offer emotional background for each confessional song.
“A Chorus Line” resonates with everyone because we empathize with the dancers’ yearning, their dreams, and their frustrations. This classic musical about theater spotlights the perseverance of often-overlooked performers in musical theater.
A dazzling experience—a must see!
“A Chorus Line” –conceived & originally directed & choreographed by Michael Bennett, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, book by James Kirkwood Jr. & Nicholas Dante, directed by Bill English, scenic design by Heather Kenyon & Bill English, choreography by Nicole Helfer, at San Francisco Playhouse. Info: SFPlayhouse.org – to September 9, 2023.
Cast: Keith Pinto, Nicole Helfer, Ann Warque, Alison Ewing, Jillian A. Smith, Danielle Cheiken, Melissa WolfKlain, Samantha Rose Cárdenas, Tony Conaty, Alex Rodriguez, M. Javi Harnly, Adria Swan, Zeke Edmonds, Ruri Kodama, Nicholas Yenson,
Maggie Connard, Zach Padlo, Chachi Delgado, Dalton Bertolone, Gabi Chun, McKay Elwood, Dian Sitip Meechai, Elihu Guerrero, Erin Rose Solorio, Michael C. Kennedy, McKay Elwood, Gabi Chun, Dian Sitip Meechai, and Joel Ochoa.
Banner photo: Chachi Delgado, Ann Warque, Nicole Helfer, Keith Pinto, & Ensemble. Photos: Jessica Palopoli