The bright lights of prime-time show business stretched from downtown Millburn all the way to Brookside Drive Sunday night, where Paper Mill Playhouse premiered its 2012-13 season in grand style.
Following the press opening of its splashy revival of “A Chorus Line,” about 50 former cast members from the legendary Broadway production joined the current cast onstage for a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch.
Hamlisch, who wrote the musical’s memorable score, died in August. In addition to a high-kicking reprise of “One,” the capacity crowd was treated to some moving personal tributes, including a speech from Mitzi Hamilton, who inspired one of the show’s characters and is directing “A Chorus Line” here, as she has done some three dozen times around the world.
Another tribute came from Kelly Bishop, who won a Tony as part of the original cast.
Hamlisch shared a Pulitzer Prize with director-co-choreographer Michael Bennett, lyricist Edward Kleban and book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante for “A Chorus Line” and, in Millburn, their legacy is well-represented by Hamilton, who worked with Bennett on the Broadway and London productions.
And in a time of high unemployment, it’s easier than ever to connect with the story’s assembly of dancers who are desperate not only for a paying job, but to share their passion for dance.
The single set is nearly bare — the spacious Paper Mill Stage is transformed into a rehearsal space framed by back curtains, with a large wall of mirrors in back for the dancers to examine themselves (and occasionally make the 17 featured dancers look like many more).
Patrons, though, won’t feel cheated. This thrilling exposition of music and dance runs for more than two hours without intermission and never loses its momentum, jumping from heart-wrenching confessional monologues by the auditioners to the dazzling choreography inspired by Bennett, a legendary figure on Broadway who also directed “Dreamgirls.”
Standouts among the cast include Jersey girl Jessica Lee Goldyn, a Parsippany native who made her professional debut at Paper Mill (“Gypsy”) and starred in the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.” There she played the sassy Val, played here by Ashley Arcement. Here, Goldyn plays Cassie, a faded feature dancer and former lover of the director, Zack (Martin Harvey) who would be happy to back to the back line of dancers. She undergoes an emotional confrontation with her director-inquisitor, who probes all the candidates for personal information, then delights the crowd with a beautiful solo dance.
Other strong work comes from Rachelle Rak as the hard-boiled, aging Sheila and J. Manual Santos as the tortured Paul. Every actor, though, leaves an indelible impression, a credit not only to their talent but to the finely-honed characters that lift this musical beyond mere song-and-dance.
Once again, Paper Mill has launched a new season with Barnum-like flair. The after party at Martini Bistro and Bar on Main Street, which spilled over into the closed street, was similar to last year’s launch, which premiered the eventual Tony-winning world-premiere production of “Newsies.” It’s not likely this particular revival production will make its way back to Broadway, but it would not be out of place there, either.
“A Chorus Line” continues through Oct 28 at Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn. Tickets are $26 to $96. For information, call 973-376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org.