"A Chorus Line" is the longest-running American musical in history, and no wonder. Since it opened in 1975, the show has pulled back the curtain on a wonderfully watch-able version of the American dream. Everyone who has fantasized about having their moment under the bright lights can relate to this Broadway classic, opening tonight at the Performing Arts Center.
"A Chorus Line" is the story of 17 dancers trying out for just eight roles in a big show. All their hopes and hard work hang on this audition.
But between musical numbers, director Zach has a few questions for those auditioning. He probes deeper into each character's hidden life and secret hopes.
The secret of this show's wild success might be its voyeurism; at moments the characters embarrass us, but it's impossible to look away.
By any measure, "A Chorus Line" is a formidable beast for a high school theater company to tackle. But director Kate Murray credits this year's talented crop of Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) students.
"I wanted to take a new risk with material and add the challenge of dance," she wrote in an online interview, adding that she had a huge number of talented girls at her disposal this year. "I wanted to highlight all of our talented students, male and female in an ensemble piece. It is also one of my favorite shows."
Somewhere between deity and creepy psychologist, Andrew Larsen hits just the right note in the all-important role of Zach, the inquiring director. Ben Williams feels real as Zach's assistant, Larry. Leandra Seward plays dance captain Sondra.
The most visible cast members, of course, are the auditioning dancers. Each has a story to tell, although some are more forthcoming than others. Shot through with surprising physical humor and grace, the character interviews are interspersed with songs everyone will recognize. Watch for Lydia Fischer's brassy Sheila, Nora Karasik's daffy Judy, and Ethan Valenti as Mike, the unlikely tap-dancer.
"A Chorus Line" demands a big cast, and under Kate Murray the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Theater Department has swelled in numbers. Part of this must be due to the young director's rapport with her flock.
Directing demands extraordinary attention to detail, and rare is the director who can examine thrift-shop stretch pants, correct dance movements, and welcome super-late arrivals with equanimity, good humor, and calm. Kate Murray is that director.
Asked to account for the burgeoning ranks in the theater program, Ms. Murray emphasized the varied roles available to students. "I think it's the rounded and diverse experiences that the program offers all students, whether they are interested in performance, tech or production. It's a safe environment for them to express their feelings and creativity, and shine."
One place this production really shines is its music, with standbys like "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" and "I Can Do That." Jan Wightman is vocal director and rehearsal pianist; Dan Murphy is band director, and Michael Tinus plays the bass.
"Sometimes these roles shift," notes Ms. Murray. "Jan and I start working months in advance, and we collaborate on the direction of spoken, sung and danced material to create a hopefully seamless production."
This production of "A Chorus Line" is rated PG-13. When the original hit the stage in the 1970s, its frank discussion of homosexuality was considered revolutionary.
"We discussed all of it during the first read-through and throughout the rehearsal process," Kate Murray explained. "I gave students and staff the option to share with me any elements that made them uncomfortable, and made decisions based on these interactions. Really, all of the 'questionable' material is stuff they hear and face on a daily basis in school," she points out.
Asked if she encouraged her cast to watch the film of "A Chorus Line," Ms. Murray responded vehemently. "No. I always tell them not to! Also, the movie is awful - a poor representation of the play. But I do not want them to copy any movie - we work on creating my vision as a director, and characters that are their own."
That unique vision will be on stage this weekend at the Performing Arts Center for four performances.
"A Chorus Line" Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 pm; Friday, Feb. 15, at 7 pm; Saturday, Feb. 16, at 2 pm and 7 pm at Performing Arts Center, high school, Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, Oak Bluffs. $10; $7 for students and seniors. The show contains adult language and content and may not be suitable for children under 13.
Molly Martone is a contributing writer to The Times.