LIGHT ON THEIR FEET
REVIEW: A CLASS ACT
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Musical Theatre Guild brings us an evening to remember, the life of composer-lyricist Edward Kleban as portrayed in the musical A Class Act. This quasi-autobiographical musical is based the life of Edward Kleban who died at the age of 48 in 1987 and is best known for writing the lyrics for A Chorus Line in 1975. This production delves into the life of Keblan as an artist who struggled with mental disorder, insecurity, cancer and social instability in the midst of developing his songwriting career. True to Musical Theatre Guild fashion they put on a fantastic production and even invited some members of the original Broadway company of A Chorus Line to attend.
The show opens at the Celebration of Life of Edward Kleban being held at the Schubert Theatre in 1988, as his friends describe their experiences with Keblan who appears throughout the musical commenting on what they have to say and taking us back and forth between past and present.
The direction by Jon Lawrence Riveria is smart and engaging. With a musical that is structured with scenes that go in and out of the past confusion is nowhere to be had—everything is clear and accessible. Riveria sublimely guides the audience through the Keblan’s creative process for creating songs leading to working with Marvin Hamlish for creating the timeless songs for A Chorus Line. Yet once we get to the A Chorus Line excerpts we want to hear more and by this come to the realization that maybe Keblan’s lyrics were superior to his music. Even as a staged reading the whole show creates the impression of a fully staged production.
The choreography by original A Chorus Line performer Kay Cole perfectly complements Rivera’s direction. Cole’s choreography here is simple and charming—she gives us just enough movement to be thoroughly satisfied, yet not so much that it feels discrepant to the rest of the minimal concept. Cole choice of movement is calculated and resourceful—from someone you know has a bag full of fancy dance tricks, given that she had to hold back the dance here still comes out shining.
Joshua Finkel in role of Ed Keblan is mesmerizing. Finkel is the total embodiment of Keblans energy and pain on stage—he took the full range of emotions let them out little by little in everything he did on stage, he’s a consummate actor. Vocally Finkel continues to astound—every song from “Light On My Feet” to “Self Portrait” is an exemplary illustration of dramatic singing. Another outstanding voice and personality is Monica Quinn (Felicia) who’s brazen voice shines in “Don’t Do It Again” and “Better.” John Massey (Lehman Engel) is another stellar actor bringing the wisdom, and patience of the great conductor of Broadway musicals and master musical theater dramaturge to his character—his performance of “Charm Song” is a diversion worth taking. Melody Butiu (Sophie) is a wonderful actress representing Keblan’s former lover and best friend, all the scenes with Butiu are some of the most tender moments is the show—she’s spectacular.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Music director Brent Crayon does a superb job at leading this production from the piano and getting the cast through all the music in 25 hours. Crayon is a precise performer and his musical leadership is top notch.
Putting together a full-length musical in such a short time frame is no easy task, yet time and time again Musical Theatre Guild puts on a dazzling show. Join MTG for their production of The Pajama Game on May 15, 2016, for more information and tickets visit: musicaltheatreguild.com.