“A Chorus Line,” Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre’s second seasonal offering, has held its mystique despite the passage of time and trends.
The minimalist musical production that explores the experiences of 17 dancers anxiously auditioning for a Broadway show is as true for performers today as it was the night it opened in 1975.
The show’s unforgettable music, composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban, was developed through a series of workshops that captured real stories of working dancers and created an element of authenticity that continues to fascinate.
Besides its exposition of childhood reminiscences, passionate ambitions and heart-wrenching disappointments, “A Chorus Line” offers Michael Bennett’s inspired choreography, which incorporates the dancers’ personalities into the movements. As each actor steps forward into the spotlight, responding to the director’s voice in the darkness, the audience slowly begins to understand these wannabes and root for them to succeed.
The enduring power of “A Chorus Line” is in telling the story of every performer who works hard and struggles to find work in order to experience the ecstasy of performing before a live audience.
“I think ‘A Chorus Line’ is a dancer’s dream,” said Diane Lala, director and choreographer of the Summer Lyric production.
“There’s nothing like hitting that pose in a gold costume,” she said of the iconic stance dancers snap to in the song, “One.”
More than 160 performers auditioned for this season’s Summer Lyric Theater. Similar to the audition process depicted in “A Chorus Line,” the two-day casting was rigorous. Performers not only must sing and dance, but fit the script’s personality types.
Lala looked for skilled performers who could also take center stage. Plus, she said, they had to have something special.
“That ‘something’ changes for every audition. ... It’s intangible,” she said.
Jaune Buisson portrays and identifies with her character Cassie, a lead dancer who must humble herself to try out for the chorus line. After a year in Los Angeles unable to find a job, Cassie implores the show’s director to cast her.
Her identity is completely tied to being a dancer. “Use me, choose me. God, I’m a dancer, a dancer dances,” she sings in “The Music and The Mirror.”
“Dancing is my life,” said Buisson, a third-generation dancer who performs and teaches. Buisson experienced that same loss of identity after Hurricane Katrina, when there were no dance studios.
But the appeal of “A Chorus Line” goes beyond the struggles of dancers. It speaks to all artists who risk judgment through self-expression.
“They’re putting themselves on the line,” Lala said — onstage, literally, and figuratively, when they reveal their innermost secrets and desires to dance.
The message of “A Chorus Line” is universal.
“’What I Did For Love’ talks to a lot of people willing to suffer for what they love,” Buisson said.
Musical direction of “A Chorus Line” comes from Summer Lyric veteran Roger Grodsky who previously conducted for “Mame,” “The Music Man,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Into the Woods,” “A Little Night Music” and “Kiss Me Kate.”
He and Lala teach classes in Musical Theater at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music.