Just a few weeks after the premature death of composer Marvin Hamlisch, New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse is paying proper tribute to him with a sparkling revival of his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line.
The production’s success is due in large part to the guidance of director-choreographer Mitzi Hamilton — who took part in the taped conversations about working as a Broadway “gypsy” that eventually led to the show’s creation — and who meticulously recreates Michael Bennett’s thrilling and seamless original staging.
The show is set at an audition for an unnamed Broadway musical in the 1970s, where numerous performers attempt to prove their worth to hard-nosed director Zach (Marvin Harvey). He eventually hand-picks a dozen and a half performers – including former flame Cassie (Jessica Lee Goldyn) – before whittling the group down after learning more about their backgrounds and personalities.
Goldyn, who played the sex-kittenish Val in the 2006 Broadway revival, looks a bit young to be playing the 32-year-old Cassie; but she imbues the role with poise, genuine sex appeal, and deeply felt emotional desperation. With her long flowing blonde hair and red lipstick, her show-stopping second-act number “Music and the Mirror” is taken to a downright erotic level.
Broadway veteran Rachelle Rak delves into the role of the hard-bitten Sheila as if it were written expressly for her; she captures the character’s tough and sassy attitude and nails every caustic one-liner.
As Paul, a gay dancer who opens up about his past life as a drag show performer, J. Manuel Santos handles the character’s intense monologue beautifully –- owning up to Paul’s past directly and without shame.
Harvey performs the role of Zach with a British accent, foreshadowing a future time when English directors would tackle American musicals with more regularity. Although the choice admittedly takes some attention away from the dancers, it does serve to separate Zach from everyone else and perhaps explain the character’s unrelenting insistence on psychologically probing all his auditionees.
On opening night, more than 50 veterans of the original Broadway production and 2006 revival were in the audience, giving the performance the excitement of a pep rally. And at the curtain call, they converged onstage to perform a portion of “One” alongside the Paper Mill cast — which was a tasty bit of icing to an already delicious piece of theatrical cake.