Arts & Leisure

A joyful “Chorus” at the Gem

“A CHORUS LINE” is on stage at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove on historic Main Street. © 2021 Ron Lyon Photo

By Thom deMartino

In a culture that elevates uniqueness, to suppress one’s individuality for the sake of the greater good can take courage and vision: especially when surrounded by the thundering cacophony of your competing contemporaries.

Just in time for the resurgence of shows returning to Broadway after a long but unavoidable absence, “A Chorus Line,” directed by Damien Lorton, has raised its curtain at the renowned Gem Theater in Garden Grove – a reminder of the symmetry between art and reality.

It’s 1975 in New York City: attendance of Broadway shows has been on a downward slide for some time, and veteran director Zach (Ricky Augustin) is at the end of his rope with the aspiring potential members of his newest cast. The individual players struggle to keep up with the frenetic routine they’ve only just learned … some excelling, while others labor with the challenging choreography.

And the director’s last whit of patience is gone.

“HEADBAND!! HEAD UP!!” he roars, for the seemingly umpteenth time at one of the dancers; yet another is chastised for chewing gum during the rehearsal; and it seems obvious that none of them are living up to his lofty expectations.

Several are summarily dismissed: leaving just about a dozen and a half, all exuberant for being closer to casting, all with their own hopes and dreams, struggles and tragedies.

Zach clarifies that he is ultimately looking for only eight performers, four male and four female. Taking a different tact, he requests some self-disclosure from the troupe — names, stage names, experience? But while their answers vary, the director is seeking a deeper understanding of what motivates, what drives them. Why such a passion for dance?

Mike (Hunter Nelson) tells of his sister’s dance class that inspired him; Bobby (Jacob Beaver), makes light of his unhappy childhood; while the other dancers fret about how much to reveal about themselves. But Zach is going out of his way to push and to challenge them, to find those diamonds in the rough — and that pressure is unrelenting.

Breaking down his potentials, the director drives to the heart of each of their individual motivations, forcing them to address their demons; and, through their vulnerabilities, revealing their true strengths. But despite all their stories, all their ambitions, who will be the fortunate ones to make the cut?

Mirroring the struggle that Broadway now faces in rousing from its long hibernation, Orange County community theaters are now reemerging as well, with One More Productions at the Gem Theater producing this timely tale of dreams and aspirations, and the sacrifices we make for our art, our passions.

There are so many outstanding performances, so many compelling backstories to the various characters, that it’s almost too much to process; yet though the audience may struggle to remember so many names, the distinct personalities of each of these determined dancers shines through.

“A CHORUS LINE” traces the development of the cast from uncertainty to excellence. © 2021 Ron Lyon Photo

The streetwise, haughty Sheila (Elizabeth Cuzzupoli), her seemingly implacable veneer of confidence cracking when revealing her childhood strife; Al and Kristine (Race Chambers and Kady Lawson), the supportive and loving young couple who balance out each other’s shortcomings; the personal struggles and tragedies of Paul (Andrew Cano, in a compelling and powerful performance); stand-out professional Cassie (Hannah Clair), willing to eclipse her individual talents as a lead to return to her roots in the chorus; the feisty and determined Diana (Giovanna Martinez); and the racy and ribald Val (Kerri Pelekoudas) with her colorful perspective on self-improvement (just don’t ask her about “The Red Shoes”.) If only there were space herein for the myriad other outstanding performances by this expansive and gifted cast.

One could argue, however, that the truest star of the show is the choreography itself: through the talents of Shauna Bradford, Alan Collins, Heather Holt Smith and Kady Lawson, this disparate group of remarkably skilled actors synchronizes together in some truly incredible numbers that include tap, ballet, jazz and modern dance. As if the story of these struggling and starving artists wasn’t compelling enough in itself, the choreography is absolutely mesmerizing.

A timeless tale of struggle and strife, lofty dreams and tragic falls, and ultimately finding one’s inner strength and place in the greater scheme of things, “A Chorus Line” is an absolute necessity to experience at the Gem; and to learn that sometimes it’s not so much about the singular “you,” as it is about the greater whole of “us.”

“A Chorus Line”, Ricky Augustin, Kady Lawson and an array of talented actors and dancers star in this exploration of the struggles of those who strive for their art, and the sometimes high costs — and rewards — of that devotion. Playing through Oct. 3 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information.



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