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COVER STORY

It's their big break

Away from the rigors of 'A Chorus Line,' five tell the stories behind the top hats.

June 05, 2008|BY DAVID NG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I hope I get it." That line may express the hopes of the characters in "A Chorus Line," but the performers in the touring production at the Ahmanson Theatre already have it. If you don't believe us, just consider the punishing routine these young dancers are enduring.

For each show, the principal cast performs two intermissionless hours of high-kicking dance numbers interspersed with 13 soul-searching songs. Multiply that by eight (as in performances a week), and then stretch that over 13 months and 29 cities for the national tour -- with a few days off here and there, if you're lucky.

So it was with great enthusiasm that the performers leaped at a recent invitation to spend an afternoon of leisure away from the theater. The destination? Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.

For a few blissful, work-free hours, five singular sensations (from a principal cast of 18) raced through the art gallery complex while chatting about their lives, careers and the privilege of performing in Michael Bennett's mother of all musical juggernauts. "Some of us are actually becoming our characters," said Emily Fletcher, who plays the imperious dancer-tigress Sheila. The actress demonstrated by placing her right hand on her hip and then shifting her torso into a haughty pose. "After a while, it works certain muscles. I'm developing a 'Sheila hip.' "

The first stop on their visit was the Peter Fetterman Gallery. The cast marveled at an exhibition of rare Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs, including images of Parisian street life, the countryside and famous personalities such as Truman Capote and Marilyn Monroe.

"I love the ones he took of the ballet dancers," said Nikki Snelson, who plays Cassie, a blond hoofer who has fallen on hard times and desperately needs a break.

The performer says her life parallels that of her character -- an early foray into Broadway was followed by a move to Los Angeles that proved difficult and demoralizing. That was followed by a move back to New York and having to start from scratch.

In the Frank Pictures Gallery, the cast got to pose in front of artist Ron Reihel's iridescent installations that glow in the dark and capture one's silhouette.

"Emily, do the Sheila pose!" said one of the cast members. (She happily obliged.)

The cast also got to play with gallery owner Laurie Frank's dog, Daddy, which once belonged to painter Ed Moses. But the real surprise here was Maria Munroe's "eturns" -- a set of crystalline spheres made from cremated human remains.

"This is definitely the way I want to go," said Snelson. Some of the cast members asked for the artist's business card.

After settling in for lunch at the Bergamot Cafe, the actors talked about the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning show that will consume their lives for the next year.

This production, which originated from Bob Avian's 2006 Broadway revival, faithfully re-creates the 1975 staging and choreography, down to the smallest step-kick moves. Even the costumes and sets, by Theoni V. Aldredge and Robin Wagner, respectively, have been lovingly replicated.

"What I'm really excited about is performing in L.A.," said Ian Liberto, who plays Bobby, a sarcastic and snippy gay dancer. "The show is about wanting to land the part. It sounds crazy, but I can feel the audience responding to us."

Clyde Alves, who plays Mike, an Italian American dancer from the Bronx, compares the show's grueling opening dance number to being shot out of a cannon. "It's brutal, and the timing has to be specific," he said. "I look at this show as surgery -- nothing is general and everything is specific."

By 4 p.m., the cast members headed back to their limousine. They're required to spend at least an hour before curtain time warming up -- a routine developed by choreographer Baayork Lee, who starred in the original Broadway production.

"It's really intense. It's like doing a whole other show," said one cast member.

Another shot back, "Oh, I'm never there on time." The performers burst into laughter as they all piled into the car.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

'A CHORUS LINE'

WHERE: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

WHEN: Ends July 6

PRICE: $30-$100

INFO: (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org

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WHERE: Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Artscenter, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

WHEN: Aug. 19-31

PRICE: $23.25-$78.25

INFO: (714) 556-2787, ocpac.org

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Faces from the crowd

"A Chorus Line" celebrates the individuals behind the generic head shots. In that spirit, we asked five cast members to reveal something about themselves and to gently dish on the current revival at the Ahmanson.

CLYDE ALVES

Hometown: Brampton, Canada.

Character: Mike, an Italian American dancer who was teased as a boy.

Costume secret: The guys get to wear the battery packs [for their mikes] in their crotches. I spend five to 10 minutes every day making my crotch look like a crotch, so you don't see a box sticking out. I feel sorry for the sound guy.

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