By Nicole Cortese
Luis Villabon has an impressive résumé, working alongside major acts in Hollywood such as Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, Paula Abdul in Reefer Madness, Dana Carvey in The Master of Disguise and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. His career path led him to Rider where he is the stage director of the reproduction of A Chorus Line.
From Nov. 20 – 24, Rider is producing its own version of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical. A Chorus Line will be performed in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater under the stage direction of Luis Villabon and musical direction of Nathan Hurwitz.
“A Chorus Line is more than a showcase of talent and comedic timing; but instead, an actual eye-opening play to the world of dancers who are only seen as machines, performing steps flawlessly in step with the dancer next to them,” said Ashten Banister, sophomore musical theater major.
A Chorus Line first opened on Broadway in 1975 and became the sixth longest-running show of all time. The musical has had many adaptations, from the 1985 film to subsequent productions around the world.
“It’s about a day in the life of 17 dancers who are auditioning for a new Broadway musical by a famous choreographer,” Villabon said. “At the time the show starts, the dancers have been working for three days and three hours. The audience is the fly on the wall of an audition. They get to see how it is to be a Broadway dancer backstage at an audition.”
One of the 17 dancers auditioning, the lead female role of Cassie, played by Banister, has an intricate relationship with the choreographer, Zach, played by sophomore musical theater major, Colby Dezelick, who is casting the show within a show. Banister has a nine-minute scene including two vocal solos and two dance breaks.
“My favorite part about the role is being able to sing, act and dance all in one show, as well as the enjoyment of exploring her character as a 32-year-old dancer who is a star but cannot get a job,” Banister said.
Banister can sympathize with her character’s predicament in the cutthroat world of entertainment.
“I am able to relate to my character’s situation because I understand how it feels to not be able to get work in the theater and long to be onstage, singing and dancing my heart out,” Banister said. “I only feel truly alive when I am onstage. There is nothing I would rather be than a singer, actor and dancer.”
Villabon considers this musical one of his personal favorites. He has re-staged A Chorus Line at the Self Family Arts Center, S.C.; Austin Music Theatre, Texas; Northern Stage, Vt.; the Ogunquit Playhouse, Maine; the Italian National Tour; the South Korean National Production in Seoul; and the Japanese Production in Tokyo.
He has performed in A Chorus Line as Butch once, Mike once, Zach twice and Paul 12 times, for a total of more than 1,500 performances. Despite all of this experience, Villabon is taking on a challenge, since Rider is the first university where he has ever directed.
“I’ve only previously directed professionally,” Villabon said. “It’s different directing and choreographing at a university. It’s a challenge in the sense that there’s all kind of dance levels you have to work with. The majority of the show has to be in perfect unison and with a lot of different dance levels, it’s tricky to teach everyone to look the same.”
Villabon has previously worked with stars such as Abdul and Kristen Bell. His experiences at Rider differ from what he is used to, but he has thoroughly enjoyed working with the students.
“Working with Paula and Kristen is exciting in a different way because their careers are already established; it’s just getting into the nitty gritty of actual work,” Villabon said. “The students are in a safe environment and their journey is just beginning. They are in a learning stage and get to experiment, and I see so much excitement.”
A Chorus Line has withstood the test of time over the past several decades. Set in the 1970s, the musical sticks to the time period in movement, clothing and vocal style, but the plot line seems relatable to most generations each time it is revived, according to Banister.
“I enjoy how intimate the musical is,” Banister said. “Each character has their own story and there are deep moments of joy and tragedy all mixed in to each character’s life story. The audience is given a glimpse of what the life of a struggling performer is like, and as the musical goes along, the audience undoubtedly will pick and choose who they like and dislike.”
According to Villabon, A Chorus Line is a period piece in which the script is kept as close to the original as possible.
Villabon promises that the audience will be very impressed with the skill level and dedication the students have put into this musical.
“We have a set of extremely talented students doing original Broadway choreography, which is extremely challenging,” Villabon said. “The dancing is within the level of some people, but for some it’s over their level; they fight tooth and nail to make it perfect.”
Printed in the 11/20/13 edition.