Arts musical review

I really need this job!

MTG brings to life 17 quirky Broadway auditionees in ‘A Chorus Line’

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Members of MIT's Musical Theater Guild perform 'A Chorus Line.'
Julie Henion Photography

A Chorus Line
MIT Musical Theater Guild
Directed by David Favela ’18
La Sala de Puerto Rico
Nov. 15–16, 21–23 at 8 p.m., Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.

Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? I need this job, oh God, I need this show! This weekend, MTG opened their rendition of the 1975 Broadway hit musical A Chorus Line. Set in New York City during an audition for a Broadway chorus line, the musical brings to life the stories of 17 auditionees and the director of the show. As the director calls forth each auditionee to talk about their life beyond the resume — their childhood, relationships, and struggles growing up — the audition evolves from a mere test of dancing ability to an introspective reflection on the complexities of the human experience.

True to its 70s Broadway setting, A Chorus Line features a soundtrack boasting an upbeat collection of ragtime and jazz melodies with syncopated rhythms. Auditionee Mike sings about how he learned to dance after taking his sister’s spot in a dance class one afternoon to a catchy double bass beat in the song “I Can Do That.” On the other hand, the song “Sing” is a bubbly, spoken discourse set to trumpets and brass, with an occasional sung word thrown in. But catchy melodies and upbeat grooves aren’t the only strong points of the soundtrack; the lyrics of each song bring out the depth and complexity of each singer. Pervading the entire soundtrack is a continuous “montage” of recountings and reminiscences that “add a lot of depth to what might initially seem like a straightforward show,” as cast member Sonja Lindberg ’20 described. Some songs are particularly poignant: one of Lindberg’s favorites is a ballad called “What I Did for Love.” She recounted that it “really makes you remember that you do things to feel, to live, to experience. You do it for your love of life, and even though the moment always has to end, you won’t forget it, and it was worthwhile all along.”

A Chorus Line is just as much about the dance sequences as it is about the music. The show’s many dance numbers boast a variety of ballet twirls, top hat tipping, and lined-up high-kicks — moves not trivial to keep in sync in a large group of 17 performers. “A Chorus Line​ was a pretty big risk for MTG to take,” explained Lauren Schexnayder ’20, the show’s producer. “Our cast had to pick up the fundamentals of ballet and tap… and then they had to learn how to sing and act their asses off at the same time.” Michael Mandanas ’22, the show’s choreographer, agreed: “it was really difficult adapting the classic combos to something that we could pull off, not as professional dancers, but as college students… I [had] to simplify down a few things.” Sure enough, though there are a few cast members who have obviously been dancing their whole lives, a lot of the cast are newbies. “All of the dances were challenging, but they never failed to put a smile on my face,” explained Eva Demsky ’22, who plays the youngest auditionee Mark. “I grew up listening to these songs and getting to be a part of them now is just so exciting!”

What is particularly spectacular to me about MTG’s rendition of the show is how each actor and actress so fully embodies the hopes, emotions, and longings of their characters. “This production is really close to the hearts of many performers,” explained Mandanas. “It really reflects the struggle of artists to stay relevant, and how strong the desire to continue performing can be. That’s something I really relate to as someone who performed before MIT and wasn’t sure if I would continue coming here.” Lindberg masterfully embodies the drive and ambition of her character Val, a dancer who went as far as to receive plastic surgery because her physical appearance was preventing her from receiving Broadway roles. “Playing Val was a ton of fun,” Lindberg said. “She’s brash and in your face and comical, but she is also quite vulnerable and a real fighter.” Audrey Leibig ’22 says about her character Diana, a young dreamer who was constantly put down by her classmates and even her high school acting teacher and yet stays afloat through it all: “I really got to figure out who she was and why she sings the songs that she does.” In A Chorus Line, MTG also breaks the boundaries of gender, race, and other divides with their casting decisions, such as by having female actresses play male characters and vice versa. For example, Demsky overcame many challenges in preparing for her character of the other gender. “It was really freeing to be able to play this role,” she said. “I love that I get to sing the part an octave higher than it is normally written for a man, allowing me to sing in my usual soprano range.”

Though at the beginning of the show I found it difficult to differentiate between the 17 auditionees, the characters gradually reveal more and more about themselves such that by the end of the show, I felt that I knew each one as a friend. Director David Favela ’18 quoted the definition of the invented word sonder in his Director’s Note. The word refers to “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, routine, worries, and inherited craziness.” When a final round of selections is made by the director eliminating 9 of the 17 auditionees, sonder describes exactly what I felt. It was time to say goodbye to some of the characters I’d really gotten to know deeply. Though they weren’t the stars of the show being auditioned for, they were the stars of A Chorus Line — complex and intricately human.

All in all, a wonderfully entertaining performance by MTG. Showings continue this Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in La Sala De Puerto Rico.

Update 11/21/19: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that showings continued Friday through Sunday.​