"A Chorus Line" is coming to Charleston, presented by the Footlight Players.
Directed by Robin Burke, "A Chorus Line” examines one day in the lives of 17 dancers, all vying for a spot in the chorus line of a Broadway musical. I interviewed musical director Manny Houston and choreographer Megan Pue about their roles in shaping this unique, modern rendition of "A Chorus Line" and their experiences working with the Footlight Players.
Have either of you been in “A Chorus Line” before?
Megan: This is my first time choreographing it, but I was in the performance when I was a kid.
Manny: I didn’t know this show before we started, so it was all new. I always love getting to know a new show.
Megan: I roped him in!
What does a choreographer do?
Megan: What doesn't a choreographer do? Essentially, for this show, since it is about dancers, the choreography and the blocking overlap. Blocking essentially is just where the actor is supposed to be on stage. I've choreographed our opening number, our closing number, our group numbers, our solo numbers, and a little bit of that blocking in between. The director and I had to work hand in hand to do that because in the original production, the director is the choreographer. Our roles had to come together as one. With my choreography, you'll see a lot of these characters' personalities and my personality through the choreography. This musical was made in the 70's and set in the 70's so we go from there while we make it current. Our show is set now, in 2016 New York. You see a lot of contemporary movement in there, but with hints of Michael Bennett's original choreography.
Same question, what does a musical director do on a production like this?
Manny: A music director's job is to prepare the cast to be able to sing proficiently and without consequence once they get on stage. Along with pulling together a band, directing that band, and rearranging the numbers so that they fit the budget of a theater. A lot of the work is dependent of the vocal types we have to work with, in reference to the cast. When you do community theater, you don't have a large reference pool to choose from. Condensing what you have and getting the cast ready to sing without music is so important.
Megan: I definitely echo that, because having to pull from so many different strengths and weaknesses, I have to make everyone look like they're a trained dancer on stage. It's like, if I can fool the audience into believing it, then I've done my job.
Are you excited about the talent you’re working with?
Megan: I’m really happy with out cast. We started with 26 members and ended up with 23, so we lost a couple people! I think that made our cast that much stronger, and motivated, and they adjusted like true professionals. Our cast has bonded really well, and for there being such a large cast, I’ve gotten to know so many different personalities. It’s been a fun journey. It translates on stage, too.
Manny: I’m definitely happy with my band. The band we’ve put together is only a three piece. The original show was mainly horns, reed and winds, but for this production we have keys, drums and bass. It’s very simplistic. The great thing about scaling it all down is that the bass player for the show did the original Broadway tour for “A Chorus Line” so that’s pretty huge. He played the tour of Tick Tick Boom, the West Side Story tours, the Annie tours, all Broadway stuff. He knows the show backwards and forwards.
How have you been inspired by previous versions of “A Chorus Line” in crafting your own versions of it?
Megan: The choreography and the movement is really iconic to Michael Bennett’s style and specific to the period. It was the 70’s, so you’re getting a lot of that disco and soulful movement in there, but at the same time you still get that Luigi jazz and Fosse jazz, which is so spot-on for that time. I wanted to steal little bits of that, but make it current. Now, waacking and voguing are all the rage, but at those kind of steals from the disco era, so why not incorporate some of that in there? Some people’s personalities shine more than their movement does, so I casted that in the choreography.
Why should people be excited to see the show this month?
Manny: People should be excited about this show for a number of reasons, but the big reason is that in Charleston, the theater and the arts community are something that allow for our culture to keep thriving. Even if you aren’t excited to see theater, or even if you’re not excited about this particular show, you should always be excited about supporting the local arts because doing so allows people like me, Megan, you, everybody, to thrive a little bit more, make a little more, learn a little more, and bring culture to our city. That’s why I’m excited about it.
Megan: This show hasn’t been in the Footlight stage in so many years. I’m thinking the 80’s? 90’s? Our director was part of that cast, so it’s been a while, when the beloved Robert Ivey was around. This is a great homage to the city, to Charleston, to Robert Ivey. Plus, it’s a really great show. There aren’t too many musicals that are all about the dancers. As I dancer, I love to see that. Dancers have voices, let them be heard! The music will get stuck in your head, and the jokes will make you laugh. It’s just a really great show.
Performances at the Footlight Theater are 8 p.m. on Aug. 5, 6, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20 and at 3 p.m. on Aug. 7, 14 and 21.
Tickets are $35 for adults, $32 for military/seniors and $25 for students.
Order tickets online at footlightplayers.net or by calling the box office at 843-722-4487.