Arts and Entertainment

‘A Chorus Line’ brings Broadway glitz and grit to Vashon

Vashon High School’s production of “A Chorus Line” features an enthusiastic cast of teenagers, playing the roles of professionals dancers in the midst of a grueling audition for a Broadway show.  - Craig Hanson photo
Vashon High School’s production of “A Chorus Line” features an enthusiastic cast of teenagers, playing the roles of professionals dancers in the midst of a grueling audition for a Broadway show.
— image credit: Craig Hanson photo

If ever a single musical summed up all that is magical and monstrous about show business, it would be “A Chorus Line,” which took New York by storm in 1975 and is now having its Island premiere at Vashon High School.

The show tells the story of a group of dancers who gather to audition for a few coveted spots in the chorus line of a new Broadway musical.

The gypsy hoofers are more than ready to sing and dance, but the show’s megalomaniacal, mercurial director (ably played by Nolan Shinn in the Vashon production) demands something even greater from them — he wants to hear their life stories, raw and uncensored, to find out what has brought them to a life in the theater.

The New York production of “A Chorus Line” was workshopped and developed by the brilliant stage director and choreographer Michael Bennett, and the true histories of many of the original cast members shaped the story, which was then set to music by acclaimed composer Marvin Hamlisch.

It was a combustible recipe for riveting theater — splashes of brutal honesty mixed with mind-boggling dance numbers and crowned with some of the most diabolically catchy show tunes ever written — and the musical went on to win nine Tony Awards and a Pulitizer Prize.

It has been running in professional revivals and amateur theater productions ever since.

It isn’t regularly staged as a high school musical, though, and there are a few reasons why.

For one thing, it has plenty of salty language, and some of the stories the dancers tell aren’t for the faint of heart.

To watch “A Chorus Line,” you wouldn’t believe it possible for an emotionally healthy, well-adjusted person to ever bloom under the bright lights of Broadway.

There’s Val, played with gusto by Zoey Rice, who flaunts the fact that she resorted to cosmetic surgery to fill out her flat chest and unimpressive derriere when her dancing ability alone didn’t land her any jobs.

Paul, played by Sage Everett, reveals in a wrenching monologue how his parents found out about his secret life as a drag queen.

Sheila, a hard-bitten, aging dancer (played to the hilt by Meme Garcia-Cosgrove), admits she grew up in an achingly unhappy home, and Diana (played by Kaydi Rosser in an amazingly full-throated understudy performance on Friday night), was the victim of an abusive acting teacher.

And then there is Cassie (portrayed by Rebecca Snyder in the show’s most convincing performance), a road-weary solo dancer who longs to return to the soothing anonymity of the chorus line.

Which brings up the second reason “A Chorus Line” rarely makes it onto a high school stage — it’s hard for such young performers to pull off the characters.

“A Chorus Line” requires so much of its cast — not only brilliant dancing and singing, but also a real depth of understanding about the most regrettable kinds of life experiences.

The show is an extremely heavy lift for high-schoolers, but the Vashon High School theater program isn’t known for backing away from challenges.

And so, it’s to the enormous credit of everyone involved in the production, including directors Susan Hanson and Stephen Floyd, that the school’s version of “A Chorus Line” is such a success.

The cast reaches deep to explore the emotional complexities of their roles, and it’s clear the teenaged thespians have worked their tails off on the difficult dance numbers, choreographed by Goeff Reiman.

The show’s eight-member orchestra, hidden behind a scrim and led by Chris Overstreet, is also so good that at first I wondered if the music was pre-recorded by much older musicians.

“A Chorus Line” is full of standout performances.

Eli Hoyt, in his debut high school production, proves himself a natural born performer, and Allie Hansen shines in her comedic turn as a ditzy dancer.

Lizzie Schoen sings like an angel, as does Drew Ward, and Isaac George’s dancing is impressive.

But best of all, the entire cast works together, seamlessly, in a tight ensemble, supporting each other in a way that might make real Broadway gypsies nod their heads in approval.

These young performers deserve our community’s support, admiration and applause.

Not that, after hearing the cautionary tales of “A Chorus Line,” we want to encourage any of these delightful young people to actually go into the lion’s den of show business.

— Elizabeth Shepherd is the arts editor of The Beachcomber.

See the play

“A Chorus Line” runs March 19 to 21 and 26 to 28. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets for most evening performances are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Matinees are $8 for all ages. A performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, will benefit Rotary’s community service projects; tickets to that show are $12.

Buy tickets at Books by the Way, VHS’s office and at the door. The show contains material some may find unsuitable for small children. There is some profanity and frank discussion of issues related to sexuality, child abuse, body image, sexism, depression and suicide.

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