Friday, August 20, 2021

A New Look at A Seasoned Show: “A Chorus Line” At Moonlight Stage Productions Giving The Company a Three of Three ratings of 10’s

In 1975 the Marvin Hamlisch (music), Edward Kleban (lyrics), James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante (book) and Michael Bennett (conceived and originally directed and choreographed) the musical hit Broadway and never looked back. It received 12 Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score culminating with nine in all. The show ran for 6,137 performances and became the fourth longest running Broadway show ever. 

The last of the last ‘musical within a musical, “A Chorus Line” was produced at Welk Village Theatre where it was abruptly halted due to the Pandemic. It’s ironic that one of the more recognizable tunes is “What I Did For Love” sung by Diana (Milan Magana) and company that just about says it all when it comes from the life’s work of everyone in show business. 

During intermission, I had a chance to chat with Producing Artistic Director Steve Glaudini who had tears in his eyes as he impressed upon me that a dancer’s life is about love, rejection and what is done for the love of dancing, being in a chorus line, auditioning knowing you may or may not make the cut, “(Oh God I need This Job”), possibly injuring yourself and laying bare your soul for the chance of the dance. The Pandemic changed all that and in the process left many behind in its wake. But the show goes on.

Every now and then, it’s good to see it again through new eyes (I’ve seen it at least three or four times over the years) just because it is one of the quintessential dance shows of Broadway’s past (by doing the math, it’s 46 years old), not to mention it is a damn solid and good show, it gives dancers the complete floor ( it starts out with 26 dancers and is whittled down to 8) on what goes into the process of becoming a dancer, and it gives the audience a chance to perhaps, understand how much hard work is involved in making something look so easy. 

Xavier J. Bush as Richie


What the show did not have at Welk was live music with Dr.Randi Rudolp and her 16 member orchestra, a sprawling stage setup outdoors (with spot on lighting by Jennifer by Jennifer Edwards). What Welk did have and continues to a have at the Vista location is director/choreographer Hector Guerrero (using the original dances) and about ten of the cast from Welk. Some of the cast and crew have different roles, but not to worry, each one past and present are excellent. 

The premise of the show is that Zach is conducting interviews for chorus line dancers being interviewed. We also get to see behind the scenes of what it looks like as dancers to go through the audition process before even getting close to the finished product. From there the finished product and in this case, the Big Production Number and finale, “One” (that singular sensation) that always brings the house down). 

Natalie Nucci as Sheila

In charge of these auditions in this show is the director, Zach (Tyler Matthew Burk) who barks out orders to this chorus of those wannabe chosen. He does this by relentlessly probing, questioning and eliminating while all the while getting under their collective skins by having each one gives a brief background of themselves as the “I Hope I Get It” mantra is chanted in the background. This is the heart of “A Chorus Line”. 

One by one Zach prods information from each with the usual suspects and personalities standing out over and above the others. Jessica Naimy as Diana, the brash Latina, who speaks of her toughness with one of her numbers, “Nothing” while relating a touchy, feely acting class she took in school on the one hand, and on the other hand later on in the show, belting out “What I Did For Love” with more emotional tremor than what was expected of her given her tough veneer. 

Cast
 Mike (Michael Jeffrey Scott Parsons) the youngest of twelve who tells how he used to mimic his sister at her dance class by learning her steps in “I Can Do That”. 

Sheila (a terrific Natalie Nucci) is tough as nails and has been around the block several times. In her number, “At The Ballet”, she reminisces about her parents and her dancing lessons and her dysfunctional family life.  The beautiful Jennifer Knox) is Cassie, Zach’s old flame and ex live in girlfriend, have a bit of an on stage why are you here moment ‘after all is said and done and you walked out on me’? Jennifer shows her talent as she dances her solo number that lasts at six or seven minutes if not longer, “The Music and the Mirror”. 

Several of the boys speak of their homosexuality but it’s Paul (Steven Ruvalcaba)) who is given the juicy part as he recalls the pain of his early childhood, his removal from Catholic School when he confesses that he is gay, his dancing in drag after he leaves school and his parents recognition of him as a young man. That monologue opens the floodgates for the audience. Ruvalcaba is a perfect Paul. Danny Gersonde is the flaming Bobby. He sashays his stuff for all to see. 

Jennifer Knox as Cassie


Holly Echsner is on target as Val, the skinny kid with no chest no behind to speak of but a great dancer none the less.  She ends up doing bit of body reconstruction and sings about it in another show stopper “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” or (“Tits and Ass” showing off her now big breasts).

 Xavier J. Bush (Richie) is the tallest dancer I’ve seen but don’t underestimate; he can kick those babies out as far as the eye can see.  

Samuel Shea is Larry, Zach’s serious assistant who helps run the auditions and Trevor Rex is Greg the Jewish gay man who struts around like a prima donna and talks about his first encounter with a woman when it’s his turn to talk. All in all, the dancing is terrific, the musical numbers are timeless, the voices are all excellent and the passion of the dancers, on a scale of one to ten, hits a ten.  

Moonlight’s last show “Beauty and the Beast” was definitely child friendly. “A Chorus Line” is adult oriented. It is well worth to trip to Vista. 


Steven Ruvalcaba as Paul

According to fun facts on “Broadway Buzz”: director/choreographer Bennett thought up “A Chorus Line” from scratch but the famous interviews was based-hours and hours of tape of dancers sharing their life’s stories-was actually started by veteran Broadway dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens in January 1974’ efore that first interview session, four of the dancers—Sammy Williams, Thommie Walsh, Priscilla Lopez and Kelly Bishop—were so nervous about the event that they met up at Walsh’s house and got stoned.

It was Neil Simon's then-wife Marsha Mason who called up Bennett and suggested (strongly) that he change the ending  and put Cassie into the show (she was not originally) to be less of a downer.

 Clive Barnes "The conservative word for “A Chorus Line” might be tremendous, or perhaps terrific."

I second the motion. 

Photo: Ken Jacques

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Park, 1250 Vale Terrace drive, Vista

Phone 760 724 2100

Runs though Sept. 4th.

Tickets: $17.00 t0 $59.00

Online: moonlightstage company






 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

It’s a Memory Play. It’s a Love Story. It’s a Story of Assimilation. It’s a Trip of a Lifetime on a ‘E ’Ticket in San Diego Rep’s '57 Chevy”. Hop on Board

 There is something to said about memory plays that bring out the fuzzy feelings in some of us. In Emmy Award-winning writer, Cris Franco goes back to the days when his father Cris Sr. moved the family from Mexico to South Central Los Angeles, a culturally diverse neighborhood, where young Cris and his siblings flourished.

But nothing lasts forever and when the family grew financially, they moved to ‘the San Fernando Valley' when young Cris was only 10. In his own words, ‘where everything looked the same and lacked any diversity’. Their family stood out as the only Hispanic family in the neighborhood. On the other hand, Cris Sr. moved to a bigger shop and the family prospered even more. 


Salinas acts out in chapter and verse (85 minutes) the goings and comings of their family dynamics, of self a -confident and self -determined immigrant who bragged about coming to America ‘legally’ to give his family everything any family could dream of: ‘The American Dream’, a big screen color TV, sending his children to a private school, albeit Catholic and a big home in the burbs, like it or not. 

In his one man tour de force, Rick Salinas (of the original Culture Clash) becomes Cris Sr. and a host of characters (18 in all) including their ‘Tia’ Miss Mimi Barnes, who got him a job in a Volkswagen auto shop and a work visa to come to the America after Cris fixed her VW Bug. 

In describing his dad, Cris calls him Mexican duct tape; “he could fix anything”. His claim to fame was that he was a master mechanic, but dirt poor; “old Mexican eat the dirt poor”.  His specialty was fixing German automotive i.e. Volkswagens, but when push came to shove, his real love, next to his family was his '57 Chevy that he paid $1802.00. With this purchase, Cris felt he had achieved ‘the American Dream’. 

Rick Salinas as the Senior Franco

In his rendering, Salinas is a as busy as a queen bee in a beehive, moving all over the stage, (designed by Christopher Murillo) as an old garage, the Chevy, (“See the USA”) his home and using anything available in the mix and match of discarded clothes, furniture, an old vacuum cleaner, a wagon filled with anything and everything, ponchos to an old vacuum cleaner, and a wooden mixing spoon that he used as a shift lever for the Chevy when he was driving the family on outings on his day off. 

It is directed by Herbert Seg├╝enza (another original Culture Clash member) and artistic director Sam Woodhouse. Along with Salinas the memory play and excellent directing by the dynamic duo, Franco’s homage to his father is both heartfelt and rock bottom honest;  “a classic”,  especially when he admits that he will not follow in his father’s footsteps to follow in the family business but will become a writer instead, and lucky for us.                                  

Along with Murillo’s everything goes set design, Mextly Couzin’s lighting, Matt Lescault’s sound, Carmen Amon’s creative costumes and Fed Lanuzo’s music, Cinematography and projections/photography by Tim Powell and Elizabeth Barrett and stage manager Heather M. Brose it all comes together like a well oiled 1957 Chevy. 


Before graduating High School in mmmmm I drove a 1955 Chevy and thought I was Miss Goddamit of my senior class. 

Two thumbs up for the entire cast and crew...

57 CHEVY is available from San Diego Repertory Theatre through Aug. 15th. For show and ticket information go to www.sdrep.org

Photo Credit: San Diego Rep.