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A Chorus Line
Transcendence Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Rent


The Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo by Ray Mabry
"It would be nice to be a star. But I'm not ... I'm a dancer." Those lines are delivered by Cassie (Kristin Piro), a girl who almost broke through to the big time, but didn't quite make it and is now auditioning with all the other dancers for a spot in the chorus of a Broadway show in A Chorus Line. The show opened this past weekend in a beyond-terrific production by Transcendence Theatre Company, who are making a habit of staging terrific productions. Until now, their fare had been revues—evenings of song and dance taken from Broadway shows, the pop charts, classic American songs, and even jazz. This is their first foray into staging a full book musical and, judging by the results, it's a move they ought to keep making.

Cassie's line is important because, in a way, it sums up the gestalt of the show: that being a star—delightful though that may be—is not as important as being an individual. A genuine, honest individual, living your truth and striving to be your best self, the "one singular sensation," as the show's signature song says. Even when you are simply a member of a chorus and directed to dance like everyone else.

A Chorus Line introduces us to a diverse group of characters united by their pursuit of a dancer's life. However brief that may be, it's the only thing Cassie (and Bobby and Val and Sheila and Paul and Bebe and Mark and the rest of the boys and girls) want. They've all come to audition for a new Broadway show, and the director, Zach (a marvelously authoritarian Matthew Rossoff) wants the hopefuls to do more than dance—he wants them to reveal something about themselves. And so, over the course of two entertaining hours, we hear their stories. How Sheila (Sara Andrews), Bebe (Leslie Rochette) and Maggie (Erika Conway) discovered dance and used it as an escape from their troubled home lives in the song "At the Ballet." How Mike (Tim Roller) got hooked when his sister refused to go to dance class and he stepped in because, as he sings, "I can do that!" And Val (a sassy Alicia Albright) reveals her surgical secret to success in the hilarious "Dance: 10, Looks: 3" with a sass that is delightfully flirtatious, yet has a subtle, smart, I'm-doing-this-with-a-full-understanding-of-its-cultural-implications-and-using-them-to-my-advantage feminist tone to it.

The entire cast is beautifully balanced, with evident talent from every member. The parts they play are wonderfully diverse—not merely in the sense of personal racial/gender/sexual identity, but also in background, experience and personality.

Since A Chorus Line is about an audition, it makes sense that the performers would want to express that sense of "god I hope I get it" in their portrayals. But under the rising full moon of Jack London State Historic Park's Winery Ruins, it feels like much more than that: it feels as though the cast is performing as if each of us is someone who could get them a part or further their career, and they are going to prove to us that they are worth our attention.

That feeling of being attended to is a feeling that pervades a Transcendence production. Usually, "Disneyfication" is a pejorative for me. But love or hate them (and I do), they know how to do logistics. Walt saw to that. Transcendence—especially given the limitations of their venue (two-lane country roads, limited parking)—does the same. They make the experience welcoming, hospitable, and highly efficient. There are regular shuttles from the main parking area to the entry, but lines form at the show's end for the shuttles back. If you spring for the VIP package, you get premium parking right at the entry to the path that takes you to the theatre, situated within the stone walls of a burned-out winery owned by Jack London. Once you're on the grounds, there are picnic tables (with large umbrellas), live music, a couple of food trucks, wineries pouring their wares. That VIP package also includes two glasses of wine, and if you team up, you can trade your four glasses for a full bottle. It's a cashless environment, so lines move quickly.

A Chorus Line takes place on an empty theater stage—a fact I'm sure producers love, as it cuts way back on staging expenses. But in this venue, all that theatric infrastructure must be brought in. Designer Michael Cramer and director Amy Miller have responded with an elegant wooden framework, with the bottom row of door-size modules on rollers, each with a section of barre. These function as mirrors in one scene, as frames for flashbacks or re-enacted memories in others. These re-enactments (or visualized memories) are also a great use of cast members who play characters that don't survive the first cut and are never seen again, and in other productions would play Words with Friends backstage until they are needed for the finale.

Cassie's right, it is nice to be a star, and the crew of Transcendence do a great job of treating every one of their ticketholders accordingly: from the sincere and genuine welcome at the will call table to the sincere and genuine personal thanks as you exit, everything works to keep Transcendence's Broadway Under the Stars presentations running with the grace and flair of a Broadway dancer striving to earn your approval in the most important audition of their life.

Transcendence Theatre Company's A Chorus Line, through June 30, 2019, in the Winery Ruins at Jack London State Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen CA. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $49-$154. The top ticket includes VIP parking, two glasses of wine and admission to the pre-show lounge. Tickets and additional information can be found at www.TranscendenceTheatre.org.


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