For an artist, the craft can come easily. It’s getting the gig that’s the hard part.
In 1975, “A Chorus Line” showed audiences just how excruciating the audition process could be. Forty years later, the stakes and sacrifices continue to be just as palpable at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, where the show opened late last month and runs through early May.
The musical takes us into the world of a Broadway dance audition. The show begins with a large group of dancers rehearsing their new steps—the original Michael Bennett choreography recreated here by choreographer Dena DiGiacinto.
But once the director, Zach (James Ludwig), narrows the chorus down to 17 dancers, the show turns into a psychological character study and a pseudo-therapy session.
On the literally glowing white line on the stage, the actors physically become their respective characters through signature poses and costumes perfectly styled to match the original 1975 Broadway production. Despite mirroring the original, these actors were able to make the roles their own.
Kelly Sheehan reveals a visceral vulnerability as the cynical Sheila, a dancer who makes it clear she is more woman than girl. In her “At the Ballet,” she is forced to come to terms with an upbringing of infidelity and domestic abuse. Sheehan allows us to feel for her anti-hero, but not so much that we lose Sheila’s scathing sense of humor.
That humor still feels as fresh as it was in ’75. Andrew Metzgar slays in his few, but memorable lines as Bobby, a sly character who recalls growing up gay in hellishly conservative Buffalo in the mid-20th century. He lightly reveals that he dreamed up many “spectacular” ways to kill himself, but then he realized that “to kill yourself in Buffalo is redundant.”
Rachel Marie Bell and DJ Petrosino also serve as comic relief as married couple Kristinie and Al, who constantly finish each other’s sentences. Kristine reveals that while she may be a skilled dancer, she can’t sing a note on key—resulting in Al’s having to be her melodic partner.
As the stories wind down, Zach confronts the shy, but skilled Paul (Omar Garibay). Garibay performs the show’s celebrated monologue with a perfect balance of apprehension and desperation to let his secret out. He recalls his parents finding out he was working in a drag show after they showed up to wish him goodbye. In a tearful release, Paul is alone on stage at his most vulnerable state until Zach comforts him.
Until the end, we know very little about the flawless blonde dancer in the red leotard known as Cassie (Jessica Lee Goldyn). But it is revealed that she had tried to make it in Hollywood as an actor. Then, after a series of rejections, she realized she was meant to be a dancer. Zach had been in a relationship with Cassie that ended in anger and packed bags. Here, he tells her that she is “too good for the chorus,” and she can’t blend in. In an act of desperation, Cassie performs the penultimate number, “Music in the Mirror.”
Goldyn, who played Val and understudied Cassie in the 2006 revival on Broadway, shows a radical maturity in embodying the despondent Cassie. Her dancing is stronger than ever as she seamlessly slips through the shadows of the stage, confronting herself in the mirrors.
Each character in “A Chorus Line” knows they all have something to lose or gain. When Paul twists his ankle while rehearsing a tap number, the dancers come to the realization that their careers could end at any point.
Still, they wouldn’t choose any other path because this is what they love, what motivates them to get up in the morning, and what keeps them alive.
John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport. engemantheater.com $69. Times vary. Through May 10.