By: Jan Engoren
“A Chorus Line,” the iconic Broadway musical that ran for 15 years in New York City, had a short run at the Wick Theatre that will likely pick back up in a few weeks.
Scheduled to run through April 12, the show was cut short in the middle of March due to the Coronavirus.
The show was choreographed and directed by Mitzi Hamilton, the inspiration for the character of Val in Michael Bennett’s original production.
Groundbreaking in its era for its organic and workshopping evolution – the characters are all real-life compilations of the lives of actual dancers – the show has kept its emotional appeal since its debut in 1975.
“Seeing the passion, dedication and immense talent of our chorus dancers as they fulfill their dreams is one of the most touching experiences of running this theater,” said Marilynn A. Wick, managing executive producer. “Producing this show is a truly profound experience, and I am tremendously honored that Mitzi Hamilton is joining our family for this run.”
Innovative for its time – one theatre critic wrote, “It was a musical that did not exist on paper before rehearsal began. It was a show created in performance, created on its feet.”
The original show was conceived and directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, co-choreographed by Bob Avian with a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. Music was written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Edward Kleban.
A Chorus Line takes the audience through the final grueling audition run by Zach, the director for a new Broadway musical. Instead of having them read a short audition scene, Zach wants to elicit a personal history from each dancer: how they got into “show business,” why they became dancers, what their hopes, fantasies and aspirations are.
The storyline emerges as he calls upon each one individually, and their life stories are revealed with raw emotion. They react in every possible way, from bravado to reticence with honesty and humor, knowing that they can’t all be chosen for the role.
Hamilton (who even had her own namesake “Hamilton” tribute created in her honor in 2016 by the cast of a show she directed in Vero Beach), has said in prior interviews, “I owe him (Michael Bennett) so much. I don’t believe that things just fall in one’s lap for no reason. I believe it is my destiny to pass Michael’s work onto future generations.”
Hamilton, who danced in shows like “Cabaret,” “Pippin” and “Seesaw” and played Val in the original London company and later on Broadway, says she carries Bennett’s torch, directing productions of “A Chorus Line” around the world.
In this production, Zach is played by Wisconsin native, Tom Berklund, who has appeared in multiple Broadway shows including a recent revival of “A Chorus Line” where he played Gregory Gardner.
New Jersey native Jessica Lee Goldyn, 34, who performed in the revival of “A Chorus Line” as Val and played the lead role of Cassie opposite Mario Lopez on Broadway in 2008, reprises her role as Cassie at the Wick.
Like her character, Goldyn has shared some of the same experiences as Cassie – the star who just needs the “music and the mirror and the chance to dance.”
Goldyn made her Broadway debut in 2006 at the age of 19 as Val in a revival of “A Chorus Line,” in what she says was “her dream role in her dream show.” After having the lead role, once the show ends, nothing is guaranteed.
Goldyn returned to regional theatre and like her character of Cassie, found it difficult to give up the lead and return to the chorus.
She is able to play the character with full credibility because she says, “I absolutely know what she feels.”
“We both just want to dance,” Goldyn said. “That’s what the character is saying – “I’m a dancer. She wants to wake up every day with something exciting to dance. That’s her gift and that’s my gift.”
Goldyn has performed in approximately 13 productions of “A Chorus Line,” often with Hamilton and for this production is assisting Hamilton is setting the show.
She began dancing at age three and in 1998 at the age of 13, saw the revival of “Chicago” on Broadway starring Marilu Henner and Bebe Neuwirth.
“When I saw them performing and dancing on stage, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life,” remembers Goldyn.
She admires Broadway veterans and fellow dancers, Donna McKechnie (who won a Best Actress Tony for the role of Cassie in 1976) and Gwen Verdon, and one day hopes to reprise some of Verdon’s roles, such as Charity in “Sweet Charity”, Roxie in “Chicago” or Lola in “Damn Yankees.”
Goldyn believes the ‘triple threat’ is disappearing from Broadway stages and says she would love to see more dance musicals come to Broadway.
“I love it,” said Goldyn, who looked up to Hamilton since the age of 12. “It’s a beautiful journey and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
“Mitzi is the best at setting the show,” said Goldyn, who has also worked alongside original cast member, Donna Drake, and others. “She lets the actors be themselves. She finds the essence of each character within that person and lets them be themselves.”
“That’s what keeps it fresh,” she said.
For Goldyn, keeping the love and joy of dance and theatre alive, no matter the challenge is what keeps her going.
“This is not an easy life,” Goldyn said. “Performers can become jaded or get diverted from their original goals. The key to my longevity is to stay in love with what I do. I don’t want to lose that spark.”
“I hope the audience falls in love with ‘A Chorus Line’ as much as I have,” she said. “It will be an incredible show and they will be just as moved as I am each night.”