Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


A Chorus Line
Novato Theater Company
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Phantom of the Opera and Detroit '67 and Jeanie's reviews of Savage Wealth and Cabaret


The Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo by Fred Deneau
The award-winning musical A Chorus Line has been around since 1975, when it swept the Tonys and went on to become one of the longest-running Broadway musicals ever. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, the show captured the vagaries of auditioning for a Broadway show as a metaphor for life, and won the hearts and sympathies of its audience. Novato Theater Company faithfully renders a version close to the original, with enthusiastic performers and some adroit staging.

Dancers are auditioning for the ensemble of a new Broadway show, and they're at the mercy of director Zach (Gregory Crane), who seems at once capricious and tyrannical. With the help of his assistant Laurie (Elise Terry), he puts some 24 dancers through their paces in order to narrow it down to 17, and eventually will select eight lucky people. What seemed radical in 1975 was his insistence on interviewing the auditionees, asking them to divulge personal histories and especially the stories of how they became dancers. This clever plot device allows the audience to peer behind the scenes, learning the typically varied and colorful backgrounds of a group of career and wannabe performers.

Individual stories stand out, as with Sheila (Katia McHaney), whose dysfunctional family life led her to escape into the beautiful world of ballet—and her experience is then mirrored by Bebe (Lucy Phillipes) and Maggie (Kelsey Magana) and the rest of the group, in "At the Ballet." Mike (Carl Robinett) discovered the joys of dance at a tender age watching his sister in dance classes, realizing that he could do all the steps, and enjoyed dancing way more than she did ("I Can Do That"). He demonstrates in a rousing tap combination.

Diana (Anna Vorperian) delivers one of the signature pieces in the show, "Nothing," recounting her unsuccessful efforts in a demeaning acting class with a disagreeable teacher. More dancers relate stories of adolescence in "Hello Twelve," or difficult relationships with parents in "Mother," or careers once considered ("Gimme the Ball"). Val (Amanda Morando) shares her key to success through plastic surgery in the amusing number, "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three."

When the dancers are sent out to learn a routine, Zach asks Cassie (Deborah Ann Spake) to stay behind, which allows us to learn of their shared past, her failures in Hollywood, and her efforts to keep dancing, regardless. Paul (Bryan Munar) also gets a private interview to share his poignant personal history.

Ultimately, eight are chosen—but the finale reunites all dancers in "One," a glittering tribute to the affecting power of stage dance. The message of pursuing what you love is brought home repeatedly, but especially in the haunting "What I Did for Love," led by Diana with the company.

Judy Wiesen, music director, mans the keyboards and leads the small band, keeping performances crisp and up-tempo. Set design by Michael Walraven captures a backstage rehearsal hall nicely, with the requisite mirrors. Frank Sarubbi's lighting design highlights individuals and dreamy scenes with the company, and costumes by Janice Deneau and Mary Weinberg aid character definition.

Director Marilyn Izdebski has cast well within the local community, nicely matching performers with characters. Knowing that all those we see on stage had to go through a similar casting process in order to be there is part of the meta-theatrical experience of the show, a kind of life-imitating-art mirroring that was no doubt fully intended by the authors. The ensemble as a whole expresses energy, enthusiasm, and genuine believability in their characterizations, adding up to an enjoyable evening spent with a classic show.

It's an entertaining homage to one of the giants of Broadway musicals.

A Chorus Line, through September 30, 2018, at Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Tickets $18.00-$30.00, available at www.novatotheatercompany.org or at the door just prior to performance.


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