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THEATER REVIEW: High praise for ‘A Chorus Line’ at the Mac-Haydn Theatre

I openly confess to loving this show. On the stage of the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham the whole cast shines brightly, almost blinding us with their unique talents and personalities.

A Chorus Line
Mac-Haydn Theatre 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 City to get into the professional theater, they leave behind their prejudices about where they have come from. Unless, of course, they come from the city itself. In Michael Bennett’s tribute to dancers in the theater, both sorts of people are thrown together for a long audition session with a director/choreographer who believes that only those fools who will unveil themselves can take on the complicated anonymity of on-stage 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 is important. Nothing matters but getting the job and for two hours and forty minutes the intimate show of strengths rages on the bare stage in a Broadway house. For us, the audience witnessing the drama, the melodrama and comedy and wit of these youngish people is something we will never see again when the show they want to be in opens and we go to see it. They will become the dancing and singing wallpaper that lets the supernovas shine. But here, in this show about them, we discover that the shining is actually their reflections in the mirror. On the stage of the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham they all shine brightly, almost blinding us with their unique talents and personalities.

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

The physical drives of this show are exceptional and for all the need for the dancers to blend into a single entity they are all different and hard to blend. Zach, the director, has a hard job ahead of him made even more difficult by the needy presence of his ex-girlfriend/lover who is auditioning for the chorus after she has been a featured player, a long step away from her chorus beginnings. Zach is played by Gabe Belyeu in a sweeter, softer way than I have ever seen before and I saw the off-Broadway original, the Broadway transfer, and about eight subsequent production and the film. Belyeu gives Zach a modest ego and a determined goal which he will not sacrifice for love, even love lost. His Zach is more human than most others have been and it makes it harder to watch him fall victim to his better judgement even when he makes his ex work harder than the others to lose herself into the mixture of that wallpaper pattern.

She, Cassie, has a long way to go, to strictly obey the rhythm, to not pop her head, to keep posture and pose in check. Cassie, played by Holly Lauren Dayton, barely survives his verbal assaults. Dayton is beautiful and there is a romantic atmosphere around her. Her costume has a sexuality all its own; her red hair is beguiling and her dance solo is an exhausting exercise in self-seduction. Her conversation with Zach is poignant and pungent; it adds an aroma of both sentiment and sacrament to the show. Dayton delivers in the dance, “The Music and The Mirror,” as well as in her much briefer monologue, a combination that made a star of Donna McKechnie back in 1975. But Cassie’s story is not 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 hours of the show’s action: Paul San Marco and Diana Morales, both young Puerto Ricans, born and bred in The Bronx. Zach has forced each candidate for the show to talk candidly about themselves. This is easy for Morales but difficult for Paul. When he finally does what he’s been asked to do it is a vastly important moment for him, an emotional confession about his life and awkward relationship with his parents and his father’s first acceptance of his son’s difficult existence. Anthony Velez delivers Paul’s story with a genuine reflexive sentimentality that gives it extra meaning and heart. Isabella Vargas’ Morales has a journey in this show; she grows from high school student in the song “Nothing” to the voice of all the performers in this show and throughout the profession in her second act song “What I Did for Love.” The only character with two major songs, Diana Morales is almost the equal of Cassie and Zach and the show almost belongs to her. Vargas is wonderful in her numbers and in the ensemble. Her strong and interpretive renditions of these songs move the show into the realm of a morality tale, a Hans Christian Andersen story with a moral and meaning beyond the basic thrust of dancers at an audition seeking work. Vargas and Velez are true to the written word and yet go beyond them to show us what humanity is really all about.

There are memorable characters in this show. Among them are Sheila, a 30-year-old dancer who may be at her final audition, delightfully 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 a standout, as is Kylan Ross’ Al, particularly in his song with Al’s wife Kristine, played by Julia Hajjar. Still, it is the wide variety of personalities and types in this show that allow a wonderful ensemble of players to pull off the ultimate reality here.

I openly confess to loving this show. I knew some of the people whose stories were contributed during the workshop that created “A Chorus Line.” I personally experienced some of the trauma that constitutes the plot. Director Eddie Gutiérrez has done a beautiful job bringing the show to this space, and the newly reconstructed theater, with elegant seats, is the ideal place to become a part of the musical’s legacy. Andrew Gmoser has lighted the show brilliantly and Music Director David Thatcher Maglione has brought his six musician band into the show making gorgeous music from start to finish. I really, heartily recommend this show to all.

“A Chorus Line” plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, on Route 203 in Chatham, N.Y., through July 3. For information and tickets call 518-392-9292 or go to their website.

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