A Chorus Line at Ivoryton Playhouse

“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

I did not recall having been to the Ivoryton Playhouse in Eastern Connecticut. If I was then it was when I was much younger. It’s a charming spot best found with a GPS.

This season they have already produced classics like ‘The Fantasticks’ and ‘Grease’ as well as a much acclaimed version of ‘A Night with Janis Joplin.’ And they have the recent Broadway hit, ‘Once,’ starting September 19th.

Their current production is ‘A Chorus Line’- the Michael Bennett award-winning smash hit from the mid-seventies with great music and lyrics by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban and the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. It started August 8th and runs through September 2nd.

The story- well set up by the opening number, titled ‘I Hope I Get It’- features the entire cast as they prepare for their dance auditions for a spot in a new Broadway show. And that is the simple plot- we get to know many of the cast members as the director, played with some compassion by Edward Stanley, asks them to talk about themselves and, nervously (for most of them), they tell us some details of their lives- and sometimes sing and dance, too.

cast photo: Jonathan Steele

But, just because it is a simple concept doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful, as well, and the audience finds itself rooting for more of the characters than there are openings for in the chorus line (the director only needs 8)- so we know there will be disappointment for most of the characters. And that is the crux of the show- why the characters willingly risk continually being disappointed when the odds are against them. And it is compelling.

‘A Chorus Line’ is the kind of show a regional theater can do a good job with- the set design can be simple and the costumes- except at the end- are simple, too. The key is finding the actors who can also dance and, of course, sing.

All along the walls of the Ivoryton are black and white photos of famous actors who have appeared on their stage from years ago- and it’s quite impressive. From Katherine Hepburn, Buddy Ebsen and Sid Caesar to Maureen Stapleton, Alan Alda and Gretchen Mol- and many others.

So, somehow, Ivoryton has always managed to find talented actors and here they have filled most of the larger roles with equity members- which makes sense. But a couple of the featured roles- Diana, who sings ‘What I Did for Love’ and Val, who sings ‘Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’ (otherwise known as the song about her body parts I really can’t say on the radio) are played by non-equity actors: Natalie Madlon and Alexa Racioppi. Both did terrific jobs with their big numbers and were great throughout the show. Big applause also went to Schuyler Beeman as Greg and Lili Thomas as Sheila. Stephanie Genito, as Cassie, sang and acted well but her dancing was a let-down.

Director Todd Underwood does a good job moving the cast of 25 around the relatively small stage. The music direction, by Michael Morris- one of 9 musicians-  does Hamlisch’s music justice and I give Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of ‘A Chorus Line’ 4 stars out of 5. It’s running Wednesdays through Sundays through September 2nd. For more info, visit Ivoryton Playhouse dot org.

A brief note: Every year, I try to catch at least some of the New York Musical Theater Festival- known as NYMF. This year I only caught one show- but it was a good one, needing just a little script tweaking. It’s called ‘The Gunfighter Meets His Match.’ It’s much more than a western spoof. There’s a lot going on in it- and it’s fun, as well. And the music is terrific! Kudos to everyone involved, especially creator Abby Payne, who wrote the book, music and lyrics and featured vocalist Shara Radin.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com,  where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”