One singular sensation: Thanks to Zoom video, NFA 'Chorus Line' cast has fans — from Broadway
The bad news: The Norwich Free Academy students who had spent weeks rehearsing “A Chorus Line” never got to stage it. As with all high school productions this spring, it was scrapped after schools were closed due to the pandemic.
The good news: The students sang a “Chorus Line” medley for a Zoom video, put it on YouTube and earned kudos from people who know that show very well — members of the 2006 cast of the Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”
Getting encouraging responses from Broadway performers was, says NFA student Daisha Scaplen, “really awesome. It was something that kind of lifted our spirits after everything we had been going through with this.”
The video begins with the students, each in his or her own Zoom box, harmonizing on “I Hope I Get It,” and they continue through various numbers from the show, some doing solos, all crooning into the camera, all performing expertly. Toward the end of the 7½-minute video, they join together to sing the soaring ballad “What I Did for Love.”
Lorin Latarro-Kopell, who played Vicki in “A Chorus Line” on Broadway and recently choreographed “Waitress” for the Great White Way, wrote, “Fantastic!!! See you all on Broadway xoxoxo.”
J. Elaine Marcos, who played Connie in “A Chorus Line,” sent a video message to the NFA teens, in which she sings, to that iconic music from “A Chorus Line,” “God, I hope I get it. NFA just got it.” She then jokes, “I don’t know what I’m making up. But I loved watching the video. Congratulations to you all for doing all the hard work. I totally understand that — doing all the work, doing all the rehearsal and not getting to perform it, but I just want to let you know by putting it out right now, especially a musical like that — every time I hear that music, it just gets me every time ... Your hard work will not go unnoticed.”
Marcos is doing more than just offering words of praise. She has also agreed to teach a Zoom master class Friday for the NFA students who were in the cast and crew.
In a phone interview from California, Marcos says when she received a social media message about the NFA medley, “I saw the video and I saw how much they wanted to perform. I wanted to tell them it’s not over, in a sense, just because you couldn’t do it once.” “A Chorus Line” is one of those classics that, if they stay involved with theater, they’ll get the chance to perform later, she says.
“I have such a huge relationship with the show,” Marcos says, noting that “A Chorus Line” was her first production after graduating from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. “It is a show that never leaves you.”
“A Chorus Line” focuses on a group of dancers auditioning for a Broadway chorus line, and, Marcos says, “The idea of putting yourself on the line, that’s why everyone who ever does this show, they don’t have to reach too far to understand the feeling of standing on that line, whether you are in high school (or not) … I live in Los Angeles now. When I go into Disney Studios and have a test for a new pilot, I still have that same feeling of ‘God, I hope I get it.’”
Marcos has performed in 10 Broadway shows over the course of her career, including playing Lily St. Regis in the 2012 revival of “Annie” with Jane Lynch, and earning an Astaire Award Nomination for Excellence in Dance for her performance as Cynthia in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” in 2011.
From Broadway actors to student actors
Here’s how the connection between the two “Chorus Line” casts came to be:
The performers from the Broadway production had put together their own Zoom video, dubbed “A Chorus Line in Quarantine,” of each of them dancing part of the opening number — one kicking a leg impossibly high while inside an apartment, for instance; another leaping across a city park — and it made a splash online.
Sarah Noiseux, a parent of an NFA student, heard about the NFA video plans and, says NFA drama teacher Phil Trostler, “She made the connection of how great it would be if we could reach out to these professionals and show them our version of it.”
After NFA posted its video, she sent some Facebook messages to the Broadway performers. It didn’t take long for the enthusiastic responses to start rolling in.
Putting on a Zoom show
Norwich Free Academy’s drama group, Playshop, was a month and a half into rehearsing “A Chorus Line” when Connecticut schools shut down. Thoughts that opening night might only be delayed eventually gave way to the realization that the show would not, alas, go on.
Scaplen, who was to star as Cassie, said everyone was disappointed.
“It’s my senior year, so it was pretty devastating. I had the lead role and it was my last year, so it was something I looked forward to,” she says.
In fact, the cast was heavily populated with seniors, says Simon Jeczmienny, himself a senior, who was going to play the role of Mike. A lot of the student performers had been involved with Playshop for four years, and this was to be their last show at NFA.
Getting to create a Zoom video with fellow cast members provided some solace. Each student recorded his or her part at home, and choir teacher Tonya Laymon worked to layer the voices and edit it all together.
“I haven’t been able to hear everyone singing at the same time because we haven't been together, so it’s nice to see everybody’s faces again and hear everyone singing at the same time,” Scaplen says.
Jeczmienny recalls hearing about the reactions of the Broadway actors.
“That was incredible. It was like by the hour, we’d get a notification from our teacher … ‘This person from the Broadway show saw this,’ then we’d see the message. Oh, my gosh, this is crazy. Then another hour would pass, and it’s, like, ‘Look, another person!’” says Jeczmienny, who plans to study computer science and engineering in college.
Equally thrilling is having the opportunity to do a virtual workshop with Marcos.
“That’s super exciting because we’re going to be able to get advice and ask questions from an actress that’s been on Broadway before,” says Scaplen, who plans to go into nursing and continue acting as a hobby.
Trostler, who leads Playshop and was directing the school’s “A Chorus Line,” says the response from the Broadway actors to the Zoom video “sort of made it much more special than we thought. We thought (the video) was just going to be an outlet for (the students) to get something from this. And now it’s turned into this whole other thing. It’s been very exciting.”
He says he’s proud of the students and the fact that they were able to come back after two months of not rehearsing together and be able to do this video. It puts a positive spin on the experience and provides a bit of closure, he says.
As another Broadway “Chorus Line” performer, Eddie Gutierrez, who played Paul, wrote, “I’m so sorry you all weren’t able to do this show that you worked so hard on! But this is fantastic! The show is about the resilience of the artist’s spirit and this is exemplary of what we we do for love! Bravo!”
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