A Chorus Line in 3-D

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Alexis Carra, Michael Paternostro and the company of "A Chorus Line"

Musical theater has become very much a family affair in Orange County, where the emerging 3-D Theatricals company has managed to make quite the home for itself and is anxious to invite Angelenos down for a visit.

Launched in 2009 by the Dawson siblings””TJ, Daniel, and Gretchen (the 3 Ds)””this professional musical theater company has managed to take root and thrive in an economic climate that has not been so fruitful for others. Case in point, the company currently resides in Fullerton’s historic Plummer Auditorium — the former home of the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, which closed its doors its 2010 due to a severe budget shortfall.

The company of "A Chorus Line"

Thankfully for the CLO subscribers, 3-D Theatricals stepped in to fill that void. The company just recently announced that it is expanding to include one-weekend engagements of the final three productions of its Fullerton season at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, in addition to the performances in Fullerton.

Given that 3-D’s last production was the family-friendly Sound of Music, the frank discussions about sexual experiences, homosexuality in A Chorus Line — an entire song is devoted to T&A — could seem a bit edgy for older, conservative subscribers.

But director TJ Dawson isn’t worried. “It’s funny the way the perception of A Chorus Line has changed over the years. Back in the day it was considered extremely racy and controversial and it would probably be rated R. It won the Pulitzer Prize because it dealt with some very hard-hitting issues. But now you see it on TV, and high schools are doing it, and now we think of it as probably more of a PG-13.”

3-D’s next production, incidentally, is Avenue Q, which might come closer to a  NC-17 rating. According to Dawson, it’s important to shake things up and offer selections that will offer something new and exciting for his subscribers, but that also will appeal to single-ticket purchasers and entice LA audiences to make the drive to Orange County. As for offending the old folks, Dawson laughingly responds, “The quote that I keep hearing from our subscribers is “˜I’m 80 years old. If there’s a bad word out there that I haven’t heard, then I wanna come and hear it!”

The company of "A Chorus Line"

As Dawson pointed out, A Chorus Line has certainly earned its place as something of a standard in musical theater lore, so the primary goal for Dawson and his creative team has been creating a production that is fresh and exciting for both the performers and the audience. Adamant about honoring Michael Bennett’s original pared-down production of just the dancers, a bare stage, and the mirror, Dawson is reliant on the performances to breathe new life into this familiar favorite.

“You never have to be more naked on stage than you are in the show,” he says. “There’s no crazy, beautiful costumes; it literally is just people in dance gear talking about what it is to be people. It’s been a cool process to strip the walls down for everyone and just get to know each other as human beings rather than just as these characters. We’re trying to play close attention to these characters and make them feel as fresh and real as possible. Many of our cast members weren’t even alive when the show first ran on Broadway.”

Choreographer Linda Love-Simmons has made it her mission to infuse her cast with the background and history of the period, in order to make both the movement as well as the performances themselves come from an authentic and organic place. “It’s true that dancers today are in many ways a lot more privileged than they were back in the day. If you wanted to be a dancer in 1975, you had to be hungry, because this was your life. If you wanted to work, if you wanted to survive, you were dancing on the line.”

As might be expected, a handful of the cast members in this production have already done previous stagings of A Chorus Line. Michael Paternostro (who boasts impressive resumes as musical director, actor, singer, dancer) takes on the role of Zach, having previously played the character of Greg in the 2006 Broadway revival.

Venny Carranza (center, jumping) and the company of "A Chorus Line"

But from where musical director Julie Lamoureux stands, there’s nothing recycled or “old top hat” about this bunch. “There is just so much history and so many stories behind A Chorus Line that you could never possibly learn them all. I think what’s great about this production is that even though there are many people involved both in the cast and in the crew who have experiences doing the show before, everyone is taking this production with a fresh start and trying to be as present as possible.”

For Love-Simmons, her journey with this show has taken on a rather remarkable parallel to her own life. She played the role of Bebe earlier in her career. Now her daughter Hannah Jean Simmons is now playing the part in this production.

“There’s such a remarkable growth that happens with A Chorus Line,” says Love-Simmons. “The piece itself deals with maturity and the coming together of a group of strangers, who go down the line sharing their stories of growing up from wanting to dance as a child, through puberty, to adulthood, and in the process of all of this, they come together as a group and unite as a chorus. I remember sitting in the audience when I was a little girl listening to “˜At the Ballet’ and thinking that these people were talking about my life and my dreams of wanting to dance. When I played Bebe, I was where she is. Young and awkward and never saying the right thing. Then later in my career I [played] Cassie. and all I wanted to do was have the chance to go back and dance in the line. And now I’m an established choreographer, sitting where Zach is, and I’m watching my daughter realize her pain and go through it, which is difficult to do, but it’s all come full circle in this really incredible way.”

Kristin Lamoureux, Tomasina Abate and Hannah Simmons

The image of individuals coming together to form a singular unit through  performance could not be more fitting when it comes to the Dawson family’s vision for 3-D Theatricals. The company, which has formed strong ties and even shares sets and rehearsal spaces with McCoy Rigby, offered Cathy Rigby’s rendition of Peter Pan as its inaugural production. According to Dawson, the magnitude of the production and the obvious co-mingling of the two companies was intentional. “We specifically chose Peter Pan as our first production because we wanted to make a statement. We wanted to make a splash in the theater community and say we know the times are tough, but we are here to work together and make new jobs and push through.”

Dawson believes in this spirit of community so much that during his curtain speech before every show, he shares the upcoming season schedule for other prominent companies such as Musical Theatre West and, of course, La Mirada to encourage people to get out there and support theater. “If we are not doing our jobs and our shows aren’t good, people aren’t going to come out and see them no matter what. But if people go to Musical Theatre West and these other companies, and they like what they see, chances are they’re going to go out and seek out more theater to go and watch. I’m a strong advocate for everyone in the theater community going out and supporting each other.”

OK, Southern California musical theaters. All together now…a 5, 6, 7, 8!

A Chorus Line opens tonight, Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm (with added performances on Sunday, May 20 at 7 pm and Saturday, May 26 at 2 pm), through May 27. Tickets: $28 – $56 (with special children’s prices of  $22). www.3dtshows.com. 714-589-2770.  Parking is free in the structure across the street.

***All A Chorus Line production photos by Isaac James Creative

@ This Stage Staff

@ This Stage Staff