By Ellen Chappelle
Seattle Musical Theatre (SMT) goes retro this month, diving into the ’70s in the third offering of their season of Musicals through the Decades with the popular and well-loved musical “A Chorus Line.” The enjoyable production runs through March 4.
No other musical has quite captured the love, fear, power and passion that drive performing artists like “A Chorus Line,” winning not only nine Tony Awards, but also a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which is extremely rare for a musical. The show ran on Broadway for 6,137 performances, making it the longest running musical until it was eclipsed by “Cats” in 1997.
Set in 1975, “A Chorus Line” follows a group of desperate-to-work actor/dancers through the audition process as they vie for a spot on the dance line of an upcoming Broadway production. The director in the piece uses the audition to mine the unique personal events that shaped the performers’ lives as dancers, giving the audience a peek into these diverse and colorful characters.
The show is a historical piece, as well. Written from the experiences of real dancers on Broadway in 1974, it is filled with pop cultural references of the time. This was a different era, where skeletons were securely locked in closets and there was no social media to reveal one’s secrets. The social revelations in “A Chorus Line” were ground-breaking in their day. The themes, however, are timeless, as the experiences of the dancers on “the line” illustrate the battles with pain and fear that we all face as we strive to create and live a life we love.
At the tender age of 11, Edmonds’ Madison Greenlund took the stage for the first time in “Beauty and the Beast” and was bit by the theater bug. “I haven’t stopped since,” she said. “Haven’t doubted myself or had the desire to pursue anything other than theater. My mind and body took over and now all it can do and think about is performing.”
Greenlund grew up in Bellingham, moving to the Seattle area to pursue the arts more seriously. “My first professional show was at Seattle Musical Theatre, where I played Snookie in ‘110 in the Shade,’” she said, adding, “After I got a check for doing something I’d do for free, there was no question this would be the lifestyle I’d choose.”
Edmonds has played a role in Greenlund’s career, too. “I actually played a dream role in Edmonds – Maureen in ‘Rent’ at Edmonds’ Driftwood Theatre,” she said. “I would have to say that is my fondest memory in Edmonds… This town will always hold a special place in my heart… You could say I started my professional career in the arts after being here, so I guess that’s kind of big.”
Now 18, Greenlund has been in about 20 productions, including playing Galinda in “Wicked” and being in a Broadway revue in Tokyo at 16. “After traveling overseas,” she explained, “I learned the importance of gaining experience in different places with different people and shortly after, I moved to San Francisco, California. I was having the time of my life growing outside of my characters and my career, but after five months had passed, I was anxious to perform again and there were multiple theater opportunities here in Seattle for me. I came back and auditioned for four musicals in one week and a week later I accepted the role of Val in ‘A Chorus Line.’”
Val, for those unfamiliar with the show, is the confident, funny character who sings the famous, um… “T & A” song. And despite her youth, Greenlund tackles the delicate subject with matter-of-fact confidence and aplomb.
“I always perceived Val to have a lot more depth than is often let on in stage productions I’ve seen of ‘A Chorus Line,’” Greenlund said. “She is strong and knows what she wants. There is nothing unsure or wary about her personality. I like that… I relate to Val because she is unwavering, knows what she wants – a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of gal, and that’s what I’m all about.”
There’s nothing unsure about Greenlund, either. In fact, she does Edmonds proud as one of the stand-outs in this production. She easily embodies the blunt-but-likable Val with more stage presence than many of the other actors. And despite her admitted struggle with the lack of a strong dance background, she’s one of the true triple threats in the cast. “Playing a character whose dancing is her strongest suit is both a privilege and a challenge,” she says.
Other excellent performances include Dustyn Moir as Paul and McKenna Turner as Diane. Moir’s warm, rich voice is as strong as his dancing and he nails Paul’s tentative, touching monologue with an authentic honesty. Turner is completely believable as the spunky Diane, with a lovely voice that is strong and heartfelt as she sings “Nothing” and more contemplative as she leads the cast in “What I Did for Love.”
On the second night of the run, the overall production lacked the energy and punch expected from “A Chorus Line.” Some of the individual vocals were lackluster and a few of the performers were clearly more comfortable dancing than acting. But the individuality of each character is there, the group vocals are great and the dancing is a blast to watch. I expect this entertaining production to grow and blossom throughout the run. Don’t wait to get your tickets. The show is already 40 percent sold out.
Even as she enjoys playing Val, Greenlund is already planning her next move. “After ‘A Chorus Line’ closes, I intend to head back to California briefly and then take the long-awaited move to New York,” she said. “Turns out, Val was totally 18 when she ‘got on the Trailways bus and headed for the big, bad apple.’ I didn’t know when exactly I would take that big step in my life, but honestly playing a character like Val has given me confidence that you really can’t go wrong going after what you want. I don’t want the plastic surgery, but I do ‘want to be kickin’ these legs as long as I can.’”
With Greenlund’s confident optimism, strong talent and a resume full of experience, there’s no doubt that she’ll do just that.
Seattle Musical Theatre (formerly Civic Light Opera) is conveniently located in Magnuson Park at 7120 62nd Ave. N.E. in Seattle. Parking is free with several restaurants located nearby on Sandpoint Way and at University Village. Performances run Friday-Sunday through March 4, with one Thursday night offering. Tickets are $35-$40 with special rates for seniors, students and groups. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 206-363-2809.
With a background in theatre and journalism, Ellen Chappelle is perfectly poised to cover the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She also keeps busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry. Please keep her posted about all things artistic in Edmonds by emailing her at [email protected].