Sydney Miede, left, Amanda Harris, Lillie Herrick, Sofia Happonen and Julianna Wittman talk about their futures as performers, in a dance studio at Montclair High School.
GWEN OREL/STAFF

‘A Chorus Line’
Montclair High School’s SVPA
The Little Theater, 141 Park St.
May 5-6, 7:30 p.m., May 12-13, 7:30 p.m., May 14, 3 p.m.

Conceived and originally
directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett; book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante; music by Marvin Hamlisch; lyrics by Edward Kleban

Advance tickets at seatyourself.biz/montclairschoolarts

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news
Though “A Chorus Line” hit Broadway in 1975, long before the cast of Montclair’s School of Visual and Performing Arts were born, the company can relate.

The struggles of applying to college, the anxiety and the hope and the hard work, relate directly to the trials of performers auditioning to be in a musical, said a few of the company on Monday.

Sofia Happonen, Amanda Harris, Lilli Herrick, and Sydney Miede will perform with SVPA for the last time with “A Chorus Line,” and stage manager Julianna Wittman will call her last cue.

Monday was “College T-Shirt” day, so the five seniors were all wearing shirts announcing where they’ll be this fall — and all are going to BFA programs.

They are five of 11 seniors among the cast and crew who will be studying performing arts in the fall; the others are Maiya Blaney, Brittany Hurlock, Steven Davis, Zack Marzulli, Maya Stepansky and Kaitlin Griffin.

Harris, who will study acting at Boston University, said there’s a point in the play where the cast wonders what they would do if they couldn’t dance.

“Brenda [Pepper, director] made it real for us,” Harris said, adding that Pepper has helped her to dive into serious acting as well as musical theater. In “A Chorus Line,” her character, Diana Morales, sings “Nothing,” a song about wanting to be onstage. Harris said, “It’s about finding your truth in something.”

Herrick agreed, saying “I can’t see another alternative for myself.” She’ll be at Ithaca College this fall.

 

Dancers rehearse “A Chorus Line.” Courtesy Chris Joyce.

Putting on the show had its challenges, such as learning the ’70s references: “We learned that ‘Peyton Place’ was not a person,” Herrick said. Wittman, who will study film at NYU, had to make all the set pieces and changes fit and run smoothly.
Happonen, who will attend Muhlenberg, had to relate to her character, Val, who sings “Dance 10, Looks 3.” Happonen laughed that she would never get plastic surgery, like Val, for a role. She could imagine cutting her hair or gaining weight.

“A Chorus Line,” with its look into a performer’s life, the book was developed from workshops with Broadway dancers, some of whom were eventually in the show) has sparked reflection and nostalgia for the company. “In eighth grade I saw ‘Hairspray,’” said Wittman, who will study film at NYU. “Sydney [Miede] looked at me and said, ‘you’re going to do that.’” And now she does:
“You don’t realize you’re growing up.”

To show off the SVPA company of dancers, singers and actors, Pepper expanded the company of “A Chorus Line” from 18 to 33.
This is the biggest group of SVPA students who’ve chosen to pursue performing arts careers, and Pepper “wanted it to resonate in a big way.”

And it does: Though some of the roles in “A Chorus Line” are actors who’ve been around for a while, others, like Judy, the wide-eyed Texan played by Herrick, “seem to have just gotten off the bus. It’s a hopeful moment.”

Miede, in contrast, plays Sheila, an older, sassy dancer, who’s “been there and done that.” But Sheila also sings in the trio “At the Ballet,” displaying her vulnerable inside and love of dance. Miede, who will study dance at the University of Michigan, said she really connected with the character there.

A performer’s life isn’t an easy one: that’s the message of the long-running “A Chorus Line,” and it isn’t lost on the cast. To get into conservatory programs, the girls had to go on an “audition track,” said Harris. While you imagine a career as a straight line, Harris said she already sees that it’s “curved, backwards, upside down, circular. It’s a weird path. That’s what made telling this so relatable. It’s OK not to have a linear path.”