There are rare and wonderful moments in the life of a critic when talent and art come together with such sheer perfection that it brings on tears of joy. At the risk of appearing less manly, I must confess that the John Cooper School’s brilliant recent production of Michael Bennett’s “A Chorus Line” was just such an occasion for me. The show relates the fact-based tale of a group of young Broadway “gypsies” as they audition as dancers for a Broadway musical. It touches powerfully on the universal themes of self-examination, fear of failure, and the quest for success. Under the flawless leadership of John Cooper’s drama director, Justin Doran, this youthful high school cast showed incredible maturity as it accomplished what I would have thought impossible: A full-scale, unedited production of this record-breaking, touching, and very sophisticated musical. But more than that, there were many moments in this triumphant production that would have delighted a real Broadway audience.
In addition to the excellent musical performance of the company’s wonderful pit orchestra (led by Rae Moses and Steve Sandifer), a central element of the show’s success was the stunning choreography designed by Bonnie Schuetz and her assistant, Leslie Reese. It closely paralleled the original Broadway production that I had the pleasure of seeing three times in New York. What was truly astonishing here is the fact that these students were able to master not only the lovely songs of this beautiful score (choral direction by Donna Arnold), but also the extensive, very difficult, and enormously complex dance routines. Adding to the luster were the fine stage management of Asmita Salil, technical direction from Tony Macneil and crew (Drew Comstock, Porter Tikannen), the radiant costumes of Misses Silver, Herwig, Ferron, Strickland, Sikkel and Roberts, and finally, the first-class printed program produced by Laura Harmon.
But let’s return to the show and its gifted cast. The opening “I Hope I Get It,” full of whirling costume color and brilliant lighting, was a breathtaking ensemble piece that dramatically revealed the solid and thrilling quality of the singing and dancing that would follow. There was a fine solo passage from Spencer Crosswy as Al. Kyle Cameron (Mike) dazzled the audience with his tap dancing acrobatics and fine voice in “I Can Do That.” Trey Comstock (Bobby), Gerry Mijares-Shafi (Richie), Shannon Silver (Val), and Elyse Jones (Judy), led the full company in the well-staged “And.” A sultry Megan Dineen (Sheila), a velvet-voiced Smitha Johnson (Bebe), and a glowing Kaylan Sikkel (Maggie), combined solo moments and great harmonies for an elegant “At The Ballet” that was smartly capped by the silhouette dancing of the ensemble under dramatic crimson lighting. Mr. Crosswy returned with his fine voice for the amusing “Sing” duet with Ellie Wilson (Kristine) and fine support from the chorus.
The four-part “Montage” segment began with perky Tina Brock (Connie) and handsome Danny Batton (Mark) nicely leading the cast in the sweet, coming-of-age song, “Hello Twelve.” Attractive Kelly Brown (Diana) brought warm maturity and a powerful and promising voice to a poignant song about feeling “Nothing.” Miss Jones returns to join Tiffany Chen (Donna) as they energize the cast in “Mother.” The “Montage” closed with the wide variations of a complex full-cast dance routine led by Jones, Alex MacGregor (Greg), and highlighted by the fine “Gimme the Ball” routine of the athletic and good-looking Mr. Mijares, whose stage presence was quite compelling.
With “Dance: 10, Looks: 3,” Miss Silver bravely tackled a tough number that has left more than one Broadway star breathless. As the director’s former lover, Cassie, beautiful Josephine Ganner combined a strong dance routine (“The Music and the Mirror”) with a fine performance reflecting lost romance. In the role of sensitive Paul, Eric Alba gave yet another exceptional performance. His dark eyes seemed to gleam with some inner light of focus and concentration as he delivered Paul’s long and heart-wrenching soliloquy with a remarkable poignancy that is most unusual in so young an actor. It was a touching moment in the play, and I could easily picture this young man one day playing this very part on Broadway.
The final series of dances, and the literally “golden” production number, “One,” were just further evidence that John Cooper School has raised the bar on what can be accomplished by talented youngsters. Perhaps Woodlands resident and audience member, Don Ward, summed it up best: “I don’t think I will ever forget this!”
(The Villager 11.18.04)
(The Courier 11.21.04)