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John Lamb, Published January 13 2013

'A Chorus Line': Not just a song and dance

There are plays-within-a-play that give the audience a behind-the-scenes view of a production, like “Noises Off” or “The Producers.”

Then there’s “A Chorus Line.” The modern classic pulls away another curtain of the theater, all the way down to the audition and allows the crowd to meet the aspiring dancers and singers looking to take part in a Broadway show. Through the fictitious tryouts, more than a dozen characters reveal personal information of how they got to this point in their career.

The show, which opened in 1975, resonates with the actors in the production. A touring version of “A Chorus Line” takes the stage Wednesday night at the Gate City Bank Theatre in the Fargodome.

“That’s what makes the show unique,” explains Kaitlin Niewoehner, a New York-based member of the touring production. “It takes you into the lives and backgrounds of these characters, and that’s part of the twist.”

“Everyone in ‘A Chorus Line’ has their own story and individual background, and sometimes some really difficult things to come through to get to that point,” the actress says. “And you never get to talk about them. It’s your job to be like everyone else, just back up the leads of the show and dance well with everyone else.”Niewoehner particularly knows about the anonymity of being a nameless ensemble member. In this production she acts as a swing, capable of filling in for eight different roles. This is her third go-round with “A Chorus Line,” having played Val, the feisty dancer, in a run last summer.

No matter the role, the stories told and the overall goal of getting the part is relatable to stage actors, says Adam Pankow, theater and language arts instructor at West Fargo High School.

Last summer, Pankow directed the show as part of the school’s Summer Arts Intensive program. That production featured young actors from 15 to 20 years old. While the characters in the musical are older and professionals who need the job to survive physically or emotionally, Pankow says emerging performers can relate to the stories.

“The world in ‘Chorus Line’ is certainly more cutthroat than high school, but the sentiments are similar,” he says. “There are still some of the same heartbreaks that they didn’t get the part because they were too tall or too big or their hair wasn’t the right color.”

He points out that the opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” not only tells of adult dancers desperate for work, but also student actors trying to find a place to be themselves. Andrina Brogden related to her role as Diana in Pankow’s production partly because, like the character, she’s been a lifelong dancer but also because Diana’s talents were underestimated.

“This play was very personal to me. I found out who I wanted to be through her character,” Brogden says.

She was particularly struck by Diana’s turn in the montage, singing the tune “Nothing,” in which the character gets lost in exercises early in her career and has her talent questioned.

“I related to doing stuff that others wanted me to do instead of finding my own way,” Brogden explains.

Coming to musical theater with more of a dance background than a vocal one, Niewoehner relates to the tone-deaf Kristine, who grows anxious throughout the audition until she is partnered with her musical husband on the duet “Sing.”

“Every time I go into an audition, you get to sing usually 16 bars of music, so 30 seconds to impress these people and it makes me terrified every time,” the actress says. “It gets better the more you do it, but I certainly share the nervousness about singing.”

Still, her favorite to play is Val, the brassy performer who didn’t get a second look until she had plastic surgery to enhance her figure.

“She’s part of the comic relief of the show because she’s so shocking, this little blond thing with pig tails and looks innocent and adorable, but she has the mouth of a sailor and a story that’s shocking and offensive,” Niewoehner says. “It’s so not within my normal personality, so it’s fun to do something so shocking.”

While playing Val allows Niewoehner to roam outside her comfort zone, she says playing any role in the musical ultimately hits close to home.

“What I love about ‘A Chorus Line’ is the reality of it,” the actress says. “I don’t ever prepare myself to get on stage to feel like I’m acting or being someone else. Our director says, ‘You should never feel like you’re performing, because you’re at an audition, you’re being yourself. You have that vulnerability you want the audience to see.’ I feel like it’s a very special show to perform because of the importance that you be real and not just perform and put on a happy face and tap your toes.”

If you go

What: “A Chorus Line”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Gate City Bank Theatre, Fargodome

Info: Tickets range from $26.50, $41.50 and $51.50. www.inforumtix.com or (855) 694-6367

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533