When the original 1976 production of "A Chorus Line" closed in New York, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history. And even now, nearly 40 years later, the show's unique popularity has diminished little.
It was, and still is, a captivating show, as witnessed by the Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre production on stage at Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center through Feb. 9.
Featuring an outstanding cast led by Broadway and television performer Meredith Patterson (who plays Cassie), and Lauren Bratton-Kearns, who grew up in Pleasanton (Val), "A Chorus Line" is lovingly directed by Lois Grandi, a Broadway performer in her own right, better known in the East Bay as founder and artistic director of the former Playhouse West theater company.
Like many who have made a living in musical comedy, Grandi and Patterson consider "A Chorus Line" something of a musical holy grail, simply because it tells, in their own words, the stories of those who dwell in Broadway chorus lines.
In the early 1970s, as the show was being developed, the creators hosted a number of meetings with Broadway chorus dancers and encouraged them to talk about their lives, their work, their passions, their fears and what they might do if they could no longer dance.
Their stories, massaged and altered somewhat to account for the passage of time and changes in the fabric of Broadway, still make for a compelling and dramatic show, augmented by Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban's often pointed and emotional songs.
The main theme running through the show is former Broadway star Cassie's desire to return to the chorus of a musical, which is being directed by her old beau Zach (Damian Marhefka), who warns she is "dancing down" and has too much emotional attachment to return to a chorus line spot.
Patterson does a remarkable job creating the Cassie character, particularly in her showstopping second act number "The Music and the Mirror," where she displays her passion for dance through the sterling choreography she performs.
Before that, Bratton-Kearns' Val has a showstopper of her own in "Dance: 10; Looks: 3," her comic, but not necessarily far from accurate, commentary on how some surgical augmentation gave her, um, a leg up on the chorus competition.
And others in the cast talk about a variety of problems, from abuse to adjustment to various out-of-the-ordinary lifestyles that led them to the theater.
It is a remarkable story that rings true for anyone who has even dabbled in theater, and it makes one wonder why those who bang their heads against the stage door don't get a job that is less heartbreaking.
The answer, both simple and complex, is that they can't. It's perhaps not a satisfying answer, but an accurate one.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
By Marvin Hamlish, Edward Kleban, James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, presented by Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre
Through: Feb. 9.
Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave., Pleasanton
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $17-$38, 925-931-4848, www.pcrtproductions.org or www.firehousearts.org.