Sierra Repertory Theatre begins its 40th season with the iconic Broadway musical “A Chorus Line,” opening Sunday at the East Sonora Theatre in Sonora.
Russell Garrett, who many Sierra Rep patrons will remember as Harry Bright in “Mamma Mia!” or as Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” pulls triple duty in the production; not only does he play the role of Zach, but he plans to recreate Michael Bennett’s original staging and choreography.
Winner of nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, the landmark musical with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, has thrilled audiences around the world. The score includes “What I Did for Love,” “One,” “Nothing” and “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” The musical held the record as the longest-running show on Broadway for 15 years. Its Tony Awards included Best Musical, Best Director and Best Choreographer, and it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama. A fun fact is that Neil Simon was called in to do some uncredited doctoring on the script; he added some of the great one-liners in the show.
In an empty theater on a bare stage, casting for a new Broadway musical is almost complete. The field has been narrowed down to just 17 dancers. For these men and women, this audition is the chance of a lifetime; it’s what they’ve worked for with every drop of sweat, every hour of training, every day of their lives. It’s the one opportunity to do what they’ve always dreamed of, but before the final cut is made, Zach, the director, asks each of them to talk about themselves. He starts by asking their names, ages, hometowns and reasons for being a dancer. But Zach wants more than just their resumes; he wants to know about their families, friends, lovers, ambitions and careers.
One by one they come forward. Some are shy or reluctant, while others are more than happy to reveal their innermost thoughts. From funny to heartbreaking, the dancers share the stories of their lives.
“A Chorus Line” departs from the usual glossy backstage musical by presenting a “true” picture of what it’s like to be in the theater; glamorous, yes, at times, but also tough, heartbreaking and sometimes even tragic. It’s a celebration of those unsung heroes of American musical theater – the chorus dancers, valiant, dedicated, underpaid, highly trained performers who back up the stars and often make them look even more talented than they are. It’s also a musical about competition, and this might easily be the common denominator that grabs the audience and holds it by the collective heartstrings until the final choices are made. For everyone, at one time or another, puts his or her life on the line.
“I think audiences will be surprised at how moved they’ll be,” Garrett said. “When we see a musical with a large ensemble, we don’t stop to think about who those people are in real life, how they got there, how hard their lives might be or how challenging their childhoods might have been. ‘A Chorus Line’ presents a stage full of individuals who we get to know and care about over the course of a short time. And the reason it resonates is because it is the truth; everything on the stage is based on an actual story and experience from a dancer at the time the show was created. Truth is very powerful.”
The cast also includes Sydni Abenido, Dalton Bertolone, Charles Bostick, Kelli Brock, Michael Ivan Carrier, Lucas Michael Chandler, Patrick J. Clarke, Ethan Daniel Corbett, Molly Dobbs, Quinn Farley, Rajah Forestner, Emily Gatesman, Zoe Swenson-Graham, Adrianne Hampton, Michael Hardenberg, Timmy Hays, Zachary Isen, Kristen Daniels, Marissa Mayer, Tina Nguyen, Greg Parker, Josh Ranck and Bryce Valle.
The production features original direction and choreography by Bennett, restaged by Garrett with help from associate director and choreographer Jill Slyter. The music direction is by Brian Allen Hobbs.
The company advises parents that the show is rated PG-13.
“A Chorus Line” opens at 2 p.m. Sunday, then plays at 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 24 at the theater at 13891 Mono Way, Sonora.
Tickets are $20 to $37 at sierrarep.org or call 532-3120.
The show actually opens on Saturday, when the troupe stages its Opening Night 40th Anniversary Gala, a celebration that begins with wine and appetizers, silent auction and catered dinner at Black Oak Casino Resort. Guests then move to the theater for the show, with the party continuing at the rehearsal annex with a Dessert Reception with the cast and creative team. Tickets are $120 to $150 each by calling 532–0502, ext. 111.
A Post-show Talkback is staged with the cast and crew immediately after the March 8 performance.