Between his years working at Southampton College and Southampton Cultural Center, stage director and acting teacher Michael Disher has rarely directed the same show twice, but this month he directs A Chorus Line for an unprecedented third time.
Disher says it’s the kind of musical that gets under your skin and once you’ve done it and done it right, you look forward to revisiting it.
A Chorus Line, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, is about 17 dancers auditioning for a Broadway show, including one accomplished dancer who previously had a romantic relationship with the director. Through monologues and song, the characters reveal how they came to pursue dancing careers and open up about their insecurities.
“All of the characters are based on real people—real dancers,” Disher notes.
The original director and choreographer of the 1975 Broadway debut, Michael Bennett, brought together dancers to talk about their lives and recorded the session. Those tapes became the underpinning for A Chorus Line.
Disher first saw A Chorus Line in 1977—his second ever Broadway show—and it’s stayed with him since. The long-running musical won nine Tonys and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
“There are two brass rings when it comes to musical theater,” Disher says. “A Chorus Line is one and the other is West Side Story. When you have the opportunity to see these shows produced well, it’s a reminder of how powerful musical theater can be and how certain stories are timeless. This is one of them. The trials and tribulations never get old, and the triumphs are never less brilliant.”
A Chorus Line is a wonderful show to teach, according to Disher. “It just has a great effect upon everyone who’s ever participated in a production of it.”
“Not only is A Chorus Line about dancers, it’s about artists,” he says, and anyone with passion for what they do can connect with the material.
The characters attempt to articulate their raison d’etre, which speaks to everyone.
The musical is an especially challenging one to pull off, and it takes the right people. “You have to have a pretty strong skill set and tool bag to do the show,” Disher says.
Each cast member must portray his or her unique character convincingly, execute difficult choreography and be able to sing—always a tall order. And as if the task of finding the right cast was not arduous enough, it all happened during the sleepy Hamptons winter. Disher extended the audition period to ensure all 22 cast members would be up to snuff. And when severe weather forced the cancellation of rehearsal dates, he pushed back the opening a week rather than debut with an under-prepared cast.
A Chorus Line was most recently staged on the East End in 2014 in Sag Harbor. Pierson High School put on the show; however, it was a toned-down version that was edited to be more appropriate for young students.
Disher cast four of those students in his production, though he deliberately put each of them in new roles. He considers it part of the teaching process. “You are still in high school and you’ve had the opportunity to do this show twice,” he told them. “That’s nothing short of miraculous.”
In addition to high schoolers who have previous experience with the musical, the cast will include two women who worked with Disher 10 years ago when he directed A Chorus Line at Southampton College. Allison-Rose DeTemple will play dancer Connie Wong for the third time, and Shannon DuPuis will reprise her role as Cassie, the dancer who has a romantic history with the director, named Zach.
For his third go-round with A Chorus Line, Disher decided that in addition to actually directing the musical, he would fill the role of Zach. Acting and dancing alongside his cast gives him perspective he doesn’t normally have while directing, and a greater respect for the cast’s challenges.
He told his cast at rehearsal a couple weeks ago, “I really hope you have the opportunity and the ability to teach this show to someone else—pass the torch.”
Joan Lyons serves as assistant director, DuPuis is dance captain and David Hoffman is dance captain for the men,
Rounding out the cast are Isabel Alvarez, Andrea Contos, Adam Fronc, Karin Greene, Paul Hartman, Dennis Hartnett, Hailey Kohlus, Edna Perez, Christine Martinez, Edward Martinez, Rachael Miller, Fred Nydegger, Mikela Ryan, Mary Sabo, Matt Schiavoni, Alyssa Semken, Sterling Smiley and Josephine Wallace.
A few of the memorable songs from A Chorus Line are “One,” “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” and “What I Did for Love.”
A Chorus Line will be staged at Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton Village from March 5 to 21. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. General admission is $25. Student tickets, with ID, are $12. Group rates are available. Order tickets at scc-arts.org or call 631-287-4377. Tickets are also available at the door.
This production will be the first to offer Southampton Cultural Center’s new elevated seating, which provides better sight lines for the audience.