Stepping into ‘A Chorus Line’

It’s amazing what a theater show looks like when you are watching from backstage.

Because it is important to support young people starting out in the fine arts, and because I was invited by director Deborah Temple, I found myself at a recent Saturday afternoon rehearsal of the Red High School production of “A Chorus Line” shooting a few photos and observing.

On St. Patricks’ Day, March 17, I watched the closing performance of the show from backstage.

Seeing the show from the other side of the curtains has its advantages: You get to watch the orchestra at work, as well as the scenery crew. Without the “pit,” as the orchestra is often called, and the young ladies keeping meticulous time with the performance so they could seamlessly change the backdrop along with the scenery crew, this wonderful reprisal of the Tony-Award-winning hit musical would have been only half a performance.

I have to say that I was mystified at first by the beautiful young ladies in black who were sometimes lip-syncing the dialogue, sometimes practicing dance steps, and then darting to the orchestra pit behind the backdrop.

I initally thought they must be understudies, but there were none listed on the program.

About three-quarters of the way through the play, I figured it out: The girls were “extras” cut from the opening scene, and were helping to change the revolving backdrop to “mirrors”. And what a fine job they and the scenery crew did!

There are other things you see backstage that you don’t see in the audience: The pit members were having a great time prior to the performance. Drummer Patrick Robinson sported a green mustache in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. His green top hat was making the rounds; for a while, even conductor Brian Zeller had it on. During the performance the hat was propped up in the center of the pit, reminding people what special day it was.

Also the backstage support the performers give one another is wonderful. Some of the cast hugged Megan Robitaille reassuringly after a long solo performance. Others grabbed a quick drink. All were quiet and respectful. One “kid” brother sat patiently in a chair, quietly playing a game on an iPhone while his sibling worked.
Another thing I learned was how the actors and actresses made quick costume changes: Danielle Comerford pulled on a sparkly gold dance coat and tails over her dance leotard and she was transformed. I pointed my camera and she posed professionally. Then she sat waiting for her cue. I peered out the curtain and took a photo of the performers entering the stage from the other wing, and then had to move so “Laurie” could walk on stage for the grand finale.

That was the major thing I noticed: there isn’t much space backstage. Even the pit looked crowded. And yet the musicians, scenery crew and cast moved quietly about without as much as a stumble or shove.

I thought about the need for an auditorium and if the community could afford to build it. Some day I hope so.

All in all, it was a pleasant place to observe “A Chorus Line.” I had seen the original Broadway production at the Shubert Theater and loved it then. But I came away from the Red Hook High School revival learning more about the play and what it takes to produce it successfully: A lot of hard work, talent and teamwork, along with grace and charm.

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