The initial thought when SLO Little Theatre announced that it was staging “A Chorus Line” was, how are they going to fit that big dance event onto the theater’s small stage?
The answer: with great skill. Zach Johnson, director and choreographer, has packed the stage with 23 cast members who all dance, act and sing with emotion and precision. In his director’s statement, he admits it was his greatest challenge so far. Johnson’s audition process for the show was a case of life imitating art as he and musical director Lacey McNamara selected these performers from some 60 people who auditioned for the demanding roles.
The ensemble is a fine sampling of Central Coast talent and includes some familiar local theater faces, as well as dancers and dance and voice teachers, Cal Poly students, and several welcome newcomers to the area.
The process to create the original Broadway production was based on tapes of the dancers’ personal stories, which evolved into choreography and songs that made “A Chorus Line” a record-breaking hit. It won nine Tony awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In addition to the dance numbers, two of the songs may stay in your head for days — “What I Did for Love,” and “One,” the signature dance routine song.
What makes the show so satisfying is its combination of lively song and dance along with characters who tell stories that are amusing, poignant and even, at moments, tear-jerking.
The dancers are being auditioned for the chorus line by Zach, the intimidating director, played with authority by Gregg Wolf. He and his assistant Laura (Jennifer Jane) put them through their paces, but also ask about their personal lives. Mike, played by Jeff Larson, explains how he began dancing as a child as he sings “I Can Do That.” Larson, a spiffy dancer, is a member of CORE Dance Company.
Several of the dancers reveal unhappy childhoods. Bobby (Travis Nefores) tries to cover it up with jokes. The seemingly tough Sheila (Karen “Kaza” Kahn Pearson) sought her childhood solace in ballet, as she and Michelle Hansen and Danielle Dutro McNamara illustrate with graceful ballet moves. Melanie Portney is cute as ditzy Kristine, who laments that she can’t sing, as her husband Al (Cody Pettit) helps her finish her sentences. Tori Waner as Connie sings about the problem of being short in show business. Hollie Clark gives her story plenty of oomph as she tells of transforming herself from unattractive and flat-chested to buxom and beautiful through the miracle of surgery. The song is “Dance 10, Looks 3,” but is better known as “Tits and Ass.”
Colton Sundstrom, a Cal Poly student, plays Mark, who begins the stories of transition to adolescence, as the whole company comes together to sing and dance in “Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love,” a fun and frenetic number about growing up, discovering sexuality and facing peer pressures.
The second act becomes more serious, as Zach talks to Paul alone. Gregory Gorrindo is touching as Paul, the play’s tragic character, who tells a sad story about dealing with the realization that he is gay and searching for his role in life and art.
Also serious is the confrontation between director Zach and dancer Cassie, who have their own past and present to deal with. Kelly Fidopiastis is Cassie, and she performs a stunning dance solo in front of a wall of mirrors. She is a dance teacher at the Academy of Dance.
Veronica Surber, who as Diana told her growing-up story in the first act, has her big moment in the second as the dancers ponder life after dance and she sings the beautiful “What I Did for Love,” joined by the company chorus.
“A Chorus Line” is an ensemble musical, so the entire ensemble deserves mentioning. Annika Borg-Sundstrom, a Cal Poly student, is comical as the air-headed Judy. Isaac Bromby has strong stage presence and is a great dancer. Sean Owen, Raymond Pai, Sean Parchejo, Libby Parker, Emma Fay, and Madison Probst each add their own personality to their fine singing and dancing to make it all work so well.
IF YOU GO
"A Chorus Line"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 15.
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $28
786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org