One singular sensation

Mesa and Phoenix welcome a touring production of "A Chorus Line" this week

Actor Michael Douglas reclaimed the headlines recently after sharing that his throat cancer has been successfuly treated. It’s a great relief to Douglas’ many fans, and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones — who won the 2010 Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical for her performance in “A Little Night Music.”

But did you know that Douglas, perhaps best known for roles in “Fatal Attraction” with Glenn Close and the television series “The Streets of San Francisco,” was in the 1985 “A Chorus Line” film?

“A Chorus Line” is the tale of diverse dancers auditioning for a role in a Broadway musical. Douglas played Kurt, the director auditioning these 17 dancers on a bare stage that leaves them feeling various degrees of vulnerability.

It’s a story with true staying power — as evidenced by its current national tour, produced by NETworks Presentations, which stops this week in the Valley. A final Mesa performance takes place Wed, Jan 12. “A Chorus Line” hits the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix Jan 13-16, thanks to the Theater League.

It’s a “mature audiences only” production with a single act that runs about two hours  — but I consider it perfectly fine for teens, and even some children who are experienced in musical theater. Individual parents are always the best at judging such things.

Lizabeth and I are excited about seeing the show while it’s here, especially since she’s readying to travel from coast to coast to audition for musical theater college programs.

A year or so ago we enjoyed the work of documentary film makers Adam Del Deo and James D. Stearn, who shot more than 500 hours of footage as auditions and casting were underway in New York for the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”

The resulting film — titled “Every Little Step” — presents a singular glimpse into the rigors of musical theater training and performance. We enjoyed seeing it at the Harkins Camelview 5 near our home, which often features films you can’t easily find in mainstream movie theaters.

Karley Willocks plays "Maggie" in "A Chorus Line" in the Valley through Jan 16

“A Chorus Line” originally opened on Broadway in 1975, and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history until eclipsed by “Cats.” Personally, I favor dancers in leotards over cats who sing and dance — but that’s just me.

The book for “A Chorus Line” was written by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Edward Kleban wrote the lyrics and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music. It’s a “must see” musical for musical theater aficionados — and those who love them.

“It’s really a musical about us,” shares dancer and actress Karley Willocks — who performs the role of Maggie in the touring production now on Valley stages. She’s been dancing since her parents enrolled in her tap and ballet classes at the age of three.

Willocks auditioned for her first theater role when she was eight years old, following the lead of her best friend at the time. Her friend wasn’t cast, but Willocks landed the role of orphan “Duffy” in the musical “Annie.”

She spent many years performing with “The Talent Machine” in Annapolis, Maryland — where her favorite shows included “Brigadoon,” “Anything Goes,” and “Pippin.” Willocks also did high school theater before entering the musical theatre program at Shenandoah University in Virginia, where she earned a B.F.A.

Willocks first performed the role of Maggie in a Tennessee production of “A Chorus Line” the summer right after she graduated. “I grew up listening to the soundtrack,” she recalls — and had also seen the movie.

She recommends the musical for anyone whose life is touched by dance or theater — including families with budding performers in their midst. But “A Chorus Line” also appeals to a wider audience.

“It helps to know that these are real stories or real dancers in the ’70s,” reflects Willocks. For her, “A Chrous Line” is about “putting yourself out there — no matter what it takes.”

– Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post offering Willocks’ insights into the college theater program audition process — plus tips from Halley Shefler of The Arts Edge, which offers educational consulting for visual and performing arts students

Coming up: Art-related resources for bullying prevention

Update: Click here to read part two of my interview with Karley Willocks, and to read a “mini-review” of “A Chorus Line” by Mala Blomquist of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

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