The tap shoes are on, the ballet slippers tied and the members of the chorus line are ready to kick their heels high.
And on Thursday night, they will do so as the curtain rises at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center for the opening performance of A Chorus Line, the longest-running American musical on Broadway.
“It is one of my absolute favorite shows,” said Kate Murray, drama and television teacher at the high school, who is directing one of the biggest casts in the high school’s history. Fifty-three students have come together to sing, dance and dazzle in this campy, jazzy theatre favorite.
The show, a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winner, takes the audience behind the scenes for a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a professional theatre.
“It’s like they’re being brought into the audition experience,” Mrs. Murphy said this week from her outpost in the theatre, which has become her second home in recent weeks as the cast and crew hammer out songs, lines and flashy dance numbers.
As the last notes of the play’s opening number trail off, a handful of dancers take the stage.
Casting is almost complete for an eight-member Broadway chorus line, and only these 17 are left. The dancers have just this one audition to secure the job of their dreams.
To make the final cut, director Zach, played by senior Andrew Larsen in his first high school stage role, asks the finalists to stop dancing and start talking. He asks the dancers their name and their age; he asks where they are from and why they dance. One by one, the dancers — some timid, some ready to pour out their hearts — come forward and share with the director, their fellow dancers and the actual audience the stories of their lives.
“They reflect a lot on their pasts, their teenage years,” Mrs. Murray said. “A lot of what they talk about is what these students are going through right now.”
The assistant director, high school senior Otto Awqatty, agreed. While his cast practiced their opening number, I Hope I Get It, Mr. Awqatty looked on thoughtfully.
“It’s realistic because it’s basically one big audition,” he said from his seat in the audience. “Those feelings of being nervous or not knowing what to say are all thrown in here and it shows that each person auditioning has their own unique story.”
Heavy on the dance numbers, the show tested the talents and limits of both Mrs. Murray and her students.
“I really wanted to do a show that challenged our students,” she said. “I think every production should have a new challenge for them.”
Many were nervous when cast. Some had dance experience, but the majority had none. “I told the students, we’re going to turn you into dancers,” the energetic director said with a laugh.
After weeks of intense rehearsals, the practice has paid off, though choreographers and directors still see room for improvement. This week, Mrs. Murray and co-choreographers Lianna Loughman and high school senior Leandra Seward, worked out kinks in the routines and shouted inspirations to their performers. “Heel . . . toe . . . heel . . . toe, does that make sense now?” Ms. Seward asked, demonstrating a dance move.
“React like a dancer,” shouted Mrs. Murray, hands in the air. “Smile till it hurts!”
With still a handful of rehearsals to go, the energy this week was strong and steady from the opening number to the spectacular finale, which sends the cast through the aisles of the theater.
“It’s such a big cast, but we’re all really close,” Ms. Seward said, out of breath after a series of kicks, taps and spins. Ms. Seward, who created many of the dance moves in the show, plays the role of dance captain in the play.
“Everybody has a lot of energy, it’s just very impressive,” she said.
A Chorus Line opens Thursday night at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center. The curtain will rise at 7 p.m. Tickets, $7 for seniors and students and $10 for adults, are available at the door.
Opening night is also Valentine’s Day and to set the mood, BravEncore, a community support group for the drama department, will sell roses and chocolates. “It will make for a really nice Valentine’s Day,” Mrs. Murray said.
Although the show is suitable for most, Mrs. Murray does caution it may not be appropriate for all. “This show is rated PG-13 due to adult content and language,” she said.
The show continues Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.