Performance draws mixed reactions from campus

The Department of Film, Television, and Theatre (FTT) performed A Chorus Line on April 18–21 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Directed by Associate Professor Matt Hawkins, the group produced a rendition of Michael Bennett’s 1975 musical of the same name.

Rather than featuring a traditional lead and supporting characters, A Chorus Line provides an intimate glance into the aspirations and turbulent thoughts and emotions of 17 actors as they audition for eight openings in the chorus of a Broadway production.

FTT Outreach Specialist Tre Goodhue shared with the Rover, “The greatest challenge (and blessing!) by far was the sheer size of the production. So many wonderful, talented individuals have given their time to make this show so amazing. There are over 90 students, faculty, and staff involved all together. … This is the largest musical FTT has produced to date!”

The show opened with the musical number “I Hope I Get It,” sung by the cast during the first round of “auditions.” Obedient to the commanding off-stage voice of the director, Zach, played by Holy Cross sophomore Mark Hieatt, the cast rushes in and out of groups to dance, perform, and receive critiques. The number suspensefully ends with the callback of 17 auditionees to stand in line for the interview process. 

Prompted by Zach’s invitation to “talk about yourself,” each “actor” shares humorous and tragic moments from their upbringings through song, monologue, and dialogue with the director.

In one of the first emotionally jarring stories of the musical, Sheila, a strong-willed dancer played by Notre Dame freshman Maia Tolud, reflected upon dance as a lifelong escape from her parents’ broken marriage in the musical number, “At the Ballet.”

The heavy content, however, was consistently balanced with humorous lines. Bobby, an eccentric played by Notre Dame sophomore Mason Kacmar, comically rambles to Zach about his odd adolescent tendency to “break into people’s houses” to “just rearrange their furniture” and his inability to “catch a ball if it had Elmer’s Glue on it.” 

There is a clear separation between the director and the “actors” during the majority of the production, as Zach is offstage and can only be heard as he converses with those auditioning for the chorus line. Saint Mary’s sophomore Macy Gunnell played Lauren, the choreographer and assistant director. Gunnell said, “As Zach’s assistant, I acted as the mediator between the powerful role of the director and the vulnerable auditioners.”

Following the “audition” interviews, Paul, a timid actor played by Notre Dame senior Josh Von Werder, vulnerably shares his lifelong inability to find belonging—neither in school nor in drag performances. After the tear-filled account, Zach emerges onstage for the first time to embrace Paul.

One attendee commented, “The story does a great job of introducing the audience to the pressures of show business and how often the industry causes people to obsess over body image or question sexual orientation leading to depression and broken relationships.”

After this scene, the final round of auditions ensues. Paul is seriously injured mid-routine and subsequently rushed to the hospital. Met with the reality that Paul’s career is threatened by this injury, Zach poses a central question faced by the cast and himself: “If today were the day you had to stop dancing … how would you feel?”

Holy Cross College Advisor Juan Maldonado, a bassoonist in the pit orchestra for the show, reflected to the Rover: “The show poses the core question of ‘What would you do if the thing that you love isn’t a possibility anymore?’” Maldonado continued, “This is a question faced by everybody in any job or any position.”

At the end of the show, Zach reassumes his initial off-stage position, commanding the auditionees to stand in line. Eight actors are cut from the audition, and the curtain closes.

Several members of the audience expressed their appreciation for the performance.

Andrea Bendzick, mother of ensemble member Madeline Bendzick, flew from California to watch A Chorus Line. She told the Rover, “I really liked how this show connected the audience to the characters and how it allowed me to reflect upon what the audition process means to actors.” Bendzick continued, “Having a daughter who has been in theater, I got to see what she goes through through the eyes of the characters.”

Notre Dame senior Victoria Gardey expressed her appreciation for the performance, saying, “The best part of the show was the dancing. I know [the cast] spent many hours working on the choreography and seeing it all come together is very special.”

In addition to these positive comments, some attendees shared their negative feelings on the content within the production. 

A visitor of Notre Dame, shared with the Rover, “The play was great, but I was uncomfortable that there was minimal previous notice about explicit content, including but not limited to the mention of sexual assault as a child and the mention of drag. I believed the show didn’t need those to be included in the character line because no one else’s character included background pertaining to that.”

Other audience members shared their critiques of the performance, one remarking, “I thought [the show] was pretty good, but unnecessarily vulgar at times, and unnecessarily pushing a homosexual agenda, but it wouldn’t be college theater without those things I guess.”

Clare DiFranco is a freshman studying accounting. She is a self-proclaimed nail technician and recently opened a salon in her dorm room. If you are in need of a manicure, email to book an appointment.

Photo Credit: FTT Instagram – taken by Evan Cobb

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