It's not common to see real tears welling up in a cast on stage but that is the case in Star eQuality Players' performance of "A Chorus Line" at Sonoma Community Center.
Sonoma's Abby Lee has produced the show with friends from the University of San Francisco. Erin Hewitt and Vida Fernandez reunited with a Bay Area cast to bring about the musical, which portrays universal themes about insecurities and dysfunctional families and the power of love and dance.
In the show, an eclectic group of dancers audition for just a few spots in a line. They don't know how many people the director wants or the type of look he prefers. As they jostle for position and attention, catty spats and pride abound. To make matters worse, the man with the final say then asks them to talk about themselves—in front of the whole group. Horrors! They all try to think of ways to be funny or sexy or create a story or a persona that will win him over and mask their flaws.
One by one, they learn about each other's less-than-perfect backgrounds and mistakes, and they become more comfortable with their own. Some have chosen dance as a way out.
Amid the prima donnas and wannabes, one slightly disheveled man stands with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders sunken, looking down. He dreads the moment when his name is called. His name is "Paul," played by Zachary Scovel.
From the minute "Paul" moves front and center, we feel the pain. He has changed his name along the way. His sister died when she was young. He realized early on he was gay. He struggled to fit.
We shift in our seats, aching for him. When his time in the spotlight is over, we breathe a sigh of relief and realize we have just traveled to a place that some of our friends have been at but never told us about. And we realize that a Saturday afternoon can sometimes change a life, as well as be pure entertainment.
How does Scovel stay so powerfully in character?
"For me, it's really easy to connect with," he told Patch after the show. "Rather than trying to tell the character's story, I'm trying to tell my own story. He states that he's homosexual and I'm homosexual. He states that he struggles with finding out how to be a man ... and I've gone through those struggles."
In the show, "Paul" ultimately falls, hurts his leg and has to go to the hospital, which leads to a discussion of what a person does when he can't dance anymore. This is the bonding point, as they talk about thoughts of suicide and friendship.
The final group is chosen and then the cast comes together for, "What I Did For Love." An audience might expect an ebullient cast ending their Saturday matinee and yes, there is that. But if you look closely, you might see the glint of real tears in an occasional cast member.
What's that about?
"We've gone through a lot as a cast and in our own lives, since we started working on this show," producer Lee told Patch. She said the song reflects their real-life struggles and also the joy of following their passion.
A matinee of "A Chorus Line" can be enjoyed on a number of levels. If you take the kids, it can be an afternoon of inspirational song and dance. For adults at any time of day, this particular cast's heartfelt spirit is touching. And, after all, isn't that the point?
"A Chorus Line" is presented in association with Sonoma Theatre Alliance. Final performances are this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For ticket information, click here. Sonoma Community Center is at 276 East Napa Street. Phone (707) 938-4626.