A Class Act

A Class Act

A Class Act

Garden Theater

Are genius and insanity the same phenomena? That’s what this elaborate and psychologically flustering show purports. Ed Kleban (Powell) lives in Musical Theater Development Hell. He’s working on a musical and getting nowhere fast. His friends love his work, but his mental condition doesn’t help – it makes him musically brilliant yet socially retarded. Ed is a perfectionist of the worst kind; nothing he creates will ever please him. But Ed is lucky, he has a solid support from his girlfriend Sophie (Thomas). She studies cancer, a much more stable line of work.

But Ed’s tendency to wander drives them apart, at least as a romantic couple. Ed’s rapidly shrinking circle of friends draws in tight, and while he’s a composing genius, nothing is ever good enough to show to his friends. His big break comes when he’s hooked up with Marvin Hamlisch (Russell Stephens). They set out to make a musical out of the stories of young dancers auditioning for a slot in a big Broadway show. It’s full of kids filled with the angst Ed possesses, and it became a hit: “A Chorus Line.” It was Ed’s peak; he won an Emmy and went on to fall into obscurity. Meanwhile Hamlisch collected crates full of statues, fame and fortune.

While this show runs over two hours, it’s full of enough sex, agony and musical theater insider gags to fill the evening. Powell is a perfect nebbish, worried and self-loathing. Thomas’s Sophie plays the long-suffering female friend. Their failed relation created a bittersweet counterpoint to the bored women attracted to a “Project Guy” like Ed only to be repelled once they get in too deep. Stephen’s Hamlisch masters the slow burn, and Lehman’s Engle (Terry E. Thomas) teaches Ed in songwriting workshop, which seems as much a group therapy project as a writing project.

There’s a clever set that looks like a grand piano but re-assembles Transformer-like to become two upright pianos, a hotel lobby and and a living room suite in New York. I think the music here sounds better than “Chorus Line” itself, although I admit I’m not a huge fan of that show. Director Walsh keeps this circus up in the air for the whole 250 minutes, and there are never any points or scenes that drag. Live theater is rising from its Covid stupor, and tonight it’s looking pretty good.


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