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Imani Williams, left, Brenden Gregory and Tyler Downey, right, are among the Binghamton University featured in the Theatre Department's production of "A Chorus Line."
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Cast members, director get a kick out of ‘A Chorus Line’
November 12, 2014Tweet
Elizabeth Mozer felt confident that two dozen “triple threat” student performers could be cast in the Theatre Department’s production of “A Chorus Line.”
“I know a lot of actors who are also singers and dancers,” said Mozer, assistant professor of theatre and director of the musical. “I thought: ‘There are a lot of people in the department who can do this show.’ I had the faith that we would be able to find who we needed for the show.”
Those performers will become (as the show-stopping song says) “one singular sensation” when “A Chorus Line” hits the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14-15 and 21-22 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23. Tickets are $10, students; $16, faculty/staff/alumni/seniors; and $18, public.
A winner of nine Tony Awards, “A Chorus Line” has helped define Broadway since its 1975 opening. The show, conceived by Michael Bennett and featuring the music of Marvin Hamlisch and the lyrics of Edward Kleban, takes the audience behind the scenes as dancers audition for positions on the chorus line of a Broadway musical. They not only reveal their dance abilities, but their dreams, hopes and fears, as well.
One of the “triple threat” performers Mozer cast is freshman Morgan Kriegel, who plays Bebe.
“As an incoming freshman, I kept checking the theatre (website),” Kriegel said. “It came up and I just freaked out! I love ‘A Chorus Line’ so much. … I see myself as a singer who also dances. I’ve always done musicals and I’ve learned how to act through them.”
The decision to produce “A Chorus Line” proved popular with others, too.
“I was excited for the show because it’s so unique and so interesting,” said junior Audrey Russo, who sings in the show. “It gives audiences a look into the life of a performer – and the grueling practices they have to do. There are fun songs and characters.”
Some “creative casting” had to be conducted, Mozer said. For example, three roles that are supposed to be played by men are female characters in the Binghamton production. The show features cast members who come from a dance background, while others have a singing/acting foundation.
“We’re staging the show in a way to feature people’s strengths,” Mozer said.
Rehearsals started with four weeks of vocal work in which the cast members met with Musical Director Kristina Ruffo to learn songs such as “One,” “At the Ballet,” “What I Did for Love” and “I Hope I Get It.”
“By the first day of staging rehearsal, they needed to have learned all of the music and have the script memorized,” Mozer said.
Mozer also gave cast members the opportunity to take dance lessons − or “dance boot camp,” as Kriegel called it − as an introduction to technique.
“Before we got to staging, I wanted to help the students obtain some strength exercises and basic information about dancing,” she said.
As the cast members learned JoEllen Kuhlman’s choreography and mastered the songs, they received advice and encouragement from a former Broadway cast mate of Mozer: Dana Moore, who was a part of the original “A Chorus Line” production (see sidebar).
“She’s an impeccable artist, a true Broadway veteran and a generous and thoughtful person,” Mozer said of Moore. “I thought: ‘Who better to connect this company with?’”
“A Chorus Line” has retained its timelessness after nearly 40 years, Mozer and cast members said, thanks to its “laying it on the line in pursuit of a dream” theme.
“’A Chorus Line’ shows the humanity of the (background) people and how hard they’ll work, even though they may not be recognized,” said Jordan Hand, a freshman who sings in the show.
The characters are also relatable for the audience and the cast members, Hand and Kriegel said.
“When certain characters are cut (from the audition), you realize the implications,” Hand said. “Don says he has a wife and two kids and wants to stay in the business, but he just can’t dance anymore. He needs to do something more stable. Without this (dance) job, he has to get to reality.”
“I really relate to my character,” Kriegel said. “Others in the cast feel the same way. It’s easy to open ourselves up and embrace the characters we’ve been given.”
Russo noted that “A Chorus Line” was one of first Broadway shows that did not feature a formal bow or curtain call. Instead, the full cast dances in gold outfits at the show’s conclusion.
“They blend into a chorus that never ends,” she said. “The entire show is spent casting and learning about different characters. In the end, they come together and you can’t tell who anybody is.”
“They go from individuals to one,” Kriegel added.
The audition process in “A Chorus Line” also provides a bit of mystery for the audience, Mozer said.
“It’s almost like a reality show,” she said. “You meet these people, but you don’t know who will be kept in the end.”
Cast members described the experience of working on “A Chorus Line” as “a blessing” and praised Mozer’s direction.
“To come to college and do main-stage theater is so exciting,” Kriegel said. “It’s been rewarding to meet everyone in a professional, friendly environment. I’m so grateful and happy.”
“One of the great things about being in a show that Elizabeth is directing is that she makes everyone feel included,” Russo said. “Whether you are an off-stage singer or a stage manager or the lead of the show, she asks all to consider the same things and put as much hard work as you can into what you are doing. It’s professional. We have fun, but when push comes to shove, everybody is serious about putting on a great show.”
Mozer said she has learned just as much from her cast members. “A Chorus Line” contains a lot of “exactitude,” she said, such as intensive choreography and actors having to hit specific marks on the floor.
“Within this exactitude is this freedom, this life,” she said. “Each time I direct, I learn more and more how to let go and give over to my cast. I want to create a place where they can do their best work and bring their full selves to the work. … I feel gifted to see what Jordan can bring and what Audrey can bring and what Morgan can bring instead of me saying, ‘OK, do this and do that.’”