PITTSFIELD -- I first saw "A Chorus Line" from the second to last row in the balcony at the Shubert Theatre in New York. The 1976 Pulitzer Prize-, Tony Award-winning musical was still in the first year of its transfer from Joe Papp's Public Theater.
Nothing I had read or heard about "A Chorus Line" had truly prepared me for what came roaring from the stage to our seats in the nosebleed section.
It was one of those rare evenings in theater of a kind I've experienced rarely; in the case of "A Chorus Line" never since that Saturday matinee in New York 36 years ago until, that is, Saturday evening at Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre. This is theater at its best.
"A Chorus Line" is set on the bare stage of a theater where a group of dancers have assembled to audition for eight openings -- four male, four female -- in the dancing chorus of a new Broadway musical. They are gypsies -- dancers who spend their careers moving from one Broadway musical chorus to another. They do it because they have no choice. "God, I'm a dancer and a dancer dances,"says one of them, Cassie -- Nili Bassman in a beautifully fashioned portrayal of a gifted older dancer whose career fell short of its promise and who now wants desperately to start over, dancing in the chorus of a show being choregraphed and directed by her former longtime workaholic lover and partner, Zach (Noah Racey in a richly nuanced performance that catches the man's dense, complex qualities)
For the dancers, this will be an audition unlike any they've experienced. By the time the audition is over, not only will they have danced, they will have exposed themselves under Zach's questioning as he strips away each of the dancers' attitudes, poses, to get to the honesty of who they are; how and why they began dancing; why they go on; and what each of them might do if it became clear they could never dance again.
The results are ironic, witty, grimly realistic, poignant, especially in the case of Paul (beautifully and affectingly played by Eddie Gutierrez), whose struggles over his sexual identity found safe haven, sanctuary, acceptance dancing as a pony, a woman, in the Jewel Box Revue.
For all the memorable individual moments in director Eric Hill's pitch-perfect production -- and there are plenty, chief among them Bassman's "The Music and the Mirror"; Neil Totton's sassy, high-stepping Richie; Gutierrez' Paul; and, as Diana, Natalie Caruncho's deliveries of "A Chorus Line's" signature songs, "What I Did for Love" and "Nothing"-- there is throughout a remarkable feeling of ensemble, of community on the Colonial Theatre stage (which is ideally suited to this musical). Hill's clean, uncluttered approach shows off this musical's perfect synthesis of book (James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante), music (Marvin Hamlisch) and lyrics (Edward Kleban).
In his questioning of these dancers, Zach is after truth, honesty. As it happens, there is not a false note, a false gesture, a false move or expression anywhere on the Colonial Theatre stage. This Berkshire Theatre Group production pulses with the freshness of first-time discovery.
"A Chorus Line" just doesn't get better than this.