News Column

UND presents 'A Chorus Line' at the Burtness Theater

November 15, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 15--With 25 anxious actors scrambling to learn rigorous choreography, UND's "A Chorus Line" opens in a dance studio and follows the nerve-racking process of auditioning for a Broadway musical.

The classic Broadway show, which runs through Nov. 23 at UND's Burtness Theater, hits home for many cast members, who soon will be graduating from college and attending real-life auditions.

"The whole show is an audition, and this is what it's really like out there," said Ali Angelone, director and choreographer of the show.

As the two-hour musical progresses, the dancers try to prove themselves to the director Zach, played by Hyrum Patterson.

The opening number "I hope I get It," encapsulates the entirety of the show and the emotions that come with auditioning for a part in a musical.

"(It's) the cattle call audition," said Jackie O'Neil, who plays Cassie. "They call in as many people as they can; and then, they eliminate, eliminate, eliminate."

Patrick Kloeckner, who plays Paul, added: "In the first number, eight people are eliminated and what you're left with is 17 people in the line."

From there, Zach and his assistant choreographer, Larry, played by Casey Paradies, have to decide which four boys and four girls they'll select for the musical. But, first Zach wants to know more about the actors' personal lives.

In the following numbers including "At the Ballet," "Sing!" and "Nothing," the audience learns about the actors' deepest fears and emotional struggles. Their stories cover everything from discovering one's homosexuality to the challenges of being a 4'10" dancer, to plastic surgery that changed one's life.

"My character, Cassie, is the (former) love interest of the director," O'Neil said. "She went to Hollywood to be this actress, and she just ended up failing miserably, so this is her crawling back to the only person she knows she can really trust."

Although Zach thinks she's too good for the chorus line, in the emotional "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie begs for a part saying she'd be proud to dance on the line, anything to stay in the industry.

Kloeckner's character has a touching story, as well.

"Zach tries twice to get him to open up and the second time ... he does, and he tells about his childhood getting sexually abused, having to drop out of his Catholic high school because he was gay and coming out to his parents accidentally ..." Kloeckner said.

From the opening scene, the show is a rollercoaster of emotions.

"It has its really hilarious moments where you're like, 'Wow, did that really just come out of their mouths,'" O'Neil said. "But, then there's also the moments that you're like, 'Wow, this is really real for some of these people.'"

Show's history

O'Neil said the fact that all of the characters are based on real people takes the play to a whole other level.

"A Chorus Line," originated in the early 1970s when director and choreographer Michael Bennett starting interviewing dancers about their personal lives in a series of workshops.

"Originally, they were interviewed because they wanted to make a unified dance association, but Michael Bennett turned it into a musical," said Kloeckner, who completed his senior capstone project about the play. "Every person in the show is based on a real person's story from those interviews."

Kloeckner's character, Paul, is based on Nicholas Dante, and O'Neil's character, Cassie, is based on Donna McKechnie.

Some of the lines from the play were taken directly from the interview tapings recorded in the early 1970s, including Paul's monologue, which Kloeckner said has gone about 98 percent unchanged.

Along with original lines, Angelone said about half of the choreography is Bennett's original choreography.

"This is one of those musicals that nobody can choreograph better than Michael Bennett," Angelone said. "I would say ... half is original and half is mine, and hopefully nobody will know the difference."

She had to change some of the original choreography because she said the original choreography is exceptionally difficult, and she wanted to be able to highlight her actors' strengths and tricks.

She started working with soloists in early September, with full-cast rehearsals starting the second week in October.

Angelone said this musical is the most difficult show she's ever worked on in her life.

"I don't think we go four or five minutes the whole show without a huge dance number," she said. "And when you're directing, choreographing, you're doing everything, so you have to be able to manage your time efficiently."

A triple threat

But, Angelone said the challenges of the show are in part the reason why they chose "A Chorus Line."

"We thought it would be nice to do a heavy dance musical this year because we want to really challenge our students," Angelone said. "They're growing so much in class, and we wanted to do something that was a little bit more difficult musically and dance wise, so they grow more."

Angelone said performing "A Chorus Line" will help the students better prepare for the real world because they are singing, dancing and acting.

"If they want to do this in the professional world ... they have to be a triple threat," she said. "They have to be able to sing, act and dance because that's how Broadway is now ... the competition is tough."

The audition process demonstrated in the musical is very similar to what many cast members will be going through in the next year or two. For that reason, O'Neil said this is the hardest show she's done.

"Everything is so close to home. We're all performers, and we all want to actually do this someday," she said. "And it's the anxiety of an actual audition."

O'Neil said she also has a deep emotional attachment to the play because dancing is her forte. After one of the characters is injured, the director asks the others what they would do if they couldn't dance anymore. O'Neil said the question hits her like a train every night because dancing is her life, and she doesn't know what she'd do without it.

Kloeckner expressed the same emotions. He's been dancing for 18 years and said he can really relate to all of the characters when they say dancing is their escape and their greatest passion.

Behind the scenes

While the cast has to deal with their own emotional attachment to the show, the behind-the-scenes crew has to deal with the audiences' attachment to "A Chorus Line."

"Since it's such a classic show, everyone kind of has expectations when they come to see 'A Chorus Line,'" said Brad Reissig, scenic and lighting designer for the show. "They expect to see the mirrors and the big art deco thing at the end. You kind of have to give them what they want in that sense."

Reissig said there are more people working off-stage than on-stage for the show. There are people helping with costume changes, people turning the large iconic panels and people working lights and sound.

Although the show has very little scene design, Reissig said it's a pretty busy show with a lot of light cues because there are a lot of dancers.

"It's controlled chaos," he said. "This has one of the fastest costume changes ever because they have to go from their regular clothes to the famous gold costumes in less than a minute."

Reissig said if it wasn't for the dedicated people working backstage the show wouldn't run as smoothly as it does.

Despite the chaos, Reissig said: "I love this show. It's one of those pieces that I think 250 years from now, they'll still look back and say that's the show that changed the latter half of the 20th century."

If you go:

--What: UND's "A Chorus Line."

--When: 7:30 tonight, Saturday and Nov. 21 to 23.

--Where: Burtness Main Stage Theater at UND.

--Cost: $20 for adults; $10 for students.

Maki covers arts and entertainment and life and style. Call her at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1122 or send e-mail to jmaki@gfherald.com, follow her on Twitter at @jasminemaki23 or see her blog at jasminemaki.wordpress.com.

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(c)2013 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)

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