Wayne Bryan remembers the first time he saw “A Chorus Line.”
It was in 1975, at a little Off-Broadway venue called The Public Theater — a place so close to the subway station that you could hear it rumble by occasionally during the performance.
He was in a Broadway show called “Rodgers & Hart” at the time, and decided to come support a friend in this “little dance show.”
It wasn’t what he expected.
“Everybody had to just be carried out of there — we’d never seen anything with that much emotion,” said Bryan, producing artistic director for Music Theatre Wichita. “We said we really hope they don’t try to move this up to Broadway, because normal civilians will never get this. It’s too inside.”
Fast-forward a few decades, and “A Chorus Line” is one of the most popular musicals of all time.
MTW is staging a new production of the classic show starting this week, as the third of its five-show 2019 season.
The musical, which was a revolutionary concept at its time, focuses on the lives of 17 aspiring Broadway dancers auditioning to earn a spot on a chorus line.
Ostensibly it’s about dancers, yes, but the same themes can be applied to anyone who’s “willing to risk everything to do something outside of their comfort zone,” Bryan said.
MTW’s production will feature David Elder (previously seen here in “Crazy For You,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Mary Poppins”) as the audition director Zach, Paige Faure (who played Cinderella on “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” on Broadway and toured with “A Chorus Line” a decade ago) as the dancer Cassie, and Kelli Youngman (of Broadway’s “Anastasia”) as Connie Wong.
All the other major characters are played by members of MTW’s resident company — including Justin Showell, who will be earning his Actors’ Equity card with this show playing Richie Walters.
Showell, a recent University of Michigan graduate, has been in MTW’s company for the past three years.
He called earning his Equity card with this particular show a “full-circle” experience with the Wichita company, which he said has been “an artistic home, a family.”
Music Theatre Wichita most recently produced “A Chorus Line” in 2005 (and in 1989 before that).
This production features the fewest Broadway actors MTW has ever used for this show, with just three people from New York. That’s not many for a show with arguably 17 leads.
“The ensemble this time really can do these intricate roles,” Bryan said. “The training just gets better and better.”
Director and choreographer Brian J. Marcum said the production will “pay homage” to the original show, while highlighting “what’s special about the people you’re going to spending the evening with.”
Many productions, including the 2009 tour, try to emulate the original Broadway production exactly — with mixed results.
“People know the opening, so you want to give them the (exact) opening, because it’s so iconic and the movement is so great, and ‘One’ (the closing number with the golden suits and the kick line) ... you can’t really change it,” Marcum said. “You don’t want to, honestly, because it’s one of the best musical theater numbers ever created.
“I could just do it on loop.”
Faure, who is making her MTW debut with this show, said she’s wanted to perform with the company for some time now.
“You can just see the heart emojis emanating from everyone when they talk about (Music Theatre Wichita),” she said. “I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to be around that.’”
‘A CHORUS LINE’
What: New production of the classic 1975 musical about aspring Broadway dancers
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, July 10-11; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, July 12-13; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, July 13-14; and 7 p.m. Sunday, July 14
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $25-$70, from the Century II box office, by phone at 316-265-3107, or online at www.mtwichita.org.
More information: Show is rated PG-13 for strong language and candid discussions about teen sexuality. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, with no intermission. Children must be at least 5 years old to attend.