Stony Batter Players Perform “A Chorus Line”

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Stony Batter Players (Mercersburg’s student theatre company) presented the musical A Chorus Line April 23 and 25. Shows were held outside in the Performance Garden, located at the south end of the Boys’ Garden (located between the Burgin Center for the Arts and Traylor Hall). Laurie Mufson directed the production; it was her final show at Mercersburg after 23 years, as she has announced her retirement at the end of the 2020–2021 academic year.

The cast had been working on the production since December, meeting remotely three times a week while students were off campus and studying virtually. Due to the ongoing pandemic, special precautions were followed every step of the way. View the program to learn about the cast and crew.

Watch replays of the two performances:
Opening Night (Friday)
Sunday performance

Assistant Director Kelly Dowling P ’21, ’21, ’23 coordinated the installation of the outdoor stage and all associated A/V elements. The stage will also be used for the Spring Music Concert Friday, April 30, at 7 p.m.

A Chorus Line examines one day in the lives of 17 dancers, all vying for a spot in the “chorus line” of a Broadway musical. After the first round of cuts, Zach (Dylan Dowling ’21), the director and choreographer, asks each of the dancers to speak about themselves.

The result of their discomfort opens into revelation, confession leads to redemption, and within the bright and outwardly homogenous chorus, the audience begins to see each dancer’s individuality: from Cassie (Wren Dahbura ’21), the star who just needs the “music and the mirror and the chance to dance,” to Val (Carina Cole ’22), a small-town girl with a brand-new big-town body, to Mia (Dalila Melkumova ’21), who took her sister’s place in dance class, saying “I can do that.” The story is based on real Broadway dancers’ stories, as told to fellow dancer and choreographer Michael Bennett.

A Chorus Line is based on the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. 

An outdoor stage has been constructed in the Performance Garden space between the Burgin Center for the
Arts and the Boys' Garden on campus. 

Stony Batter Players last performed A Chorus Line at Mercersburg in February 1999—Mufson’s first musical after her arrival at Mercersburg. 

Mufson believes theatre artists are incredible out-of-the-box thinkers. 

“We are constantly problem solving—and that’s what the rehearsal process is like,” says Mufson, who is also the school’s Palmer Chair for the Fine Arts. “We’ve had to work as a team to figure out how we’re going to do this. I’m sure there are things we haven’t thought about, and we don’t know what will happen with the weather. We’ll have to take those things as we go!”

While students were still home before returning to campus in March, actors developed the backstory for their character and did solo, duet, and trio work starting in February through Rehearsal Live Share, an online interface that allows performers to rehearse safely and more efficiently while in different locations. 

Using Rehearsal Live Share, Lindsay Owen P ’24 (the show’s musical director) and Jim Brinson (vocal director and arts faculty) met regularly with the ensemble. “We had lots of challenges to make sure people could hear each other [during virtual rehearsals],” Mufson says.

“While there were lots of things we couldn't do for the acting side while we were all virtual, we could have one-on-one conversations about the actor’s character, backstory, needs, and intentions and the tactics they could try. We wouldn’t have had the time to focus on that if it wasn’t for COVID and being off campus.”

Anne Reeder Bertram ’00 and Denise Bennett P ’12, ’19, ’23 served as the show’s choreographers. Assistant choreographer Grace Bennett ’19 also worked with the cast demonstrating choreography and helping them refine movement phrases.

“I’m still appreciating the circular nature of this for me, since this was my first musical here and now it’s my last, and Anne was Cassie in that first production and the choreographer for this one—there’s something so special about that,” Mufson continues. “And being able to work with Grace, who is a graduate of this program and has studied in a BFA [bachelor of fine arts] program at Stephens College. Her musical-theatre dance ability has grown. The training she received at Mercersburg helped prepare her for college, and now she’s able to help here and use her skills here because of her time there.”

Others involved with the production included the aforementioned Kelly Dowling (arts faculty/assistant director of the Burgin Center for the Arts), who was the production manager and designer; Walt Dowling P ’21, ’21, ’23, lighting designer; Jessica Doubell (arts faculty), technical director; and Pat McDaniel, sound engineer.

Mufson said she is grateful to the kids and their commitment to seeing the show through, when they knew it would be hard to tackle the moving parts of starting the preparations remotely. 

“We had a conversation at the end of January about what the spring was going to be like and if they were willing to see this through till the middle of April,” Mufson says. “All but one student chose to continue [with the show].” 

Mufson is also thankful for the flexibility of other PGA programs on campus, such as athletics, dance, and MOE, that are allowing the theatre students to focus on the musical as their main program. Students working on the show have attended practices and other activities when time in the production schedule allowed them to do so. 

“We have to be open to the pivot,” Mufson says. “As hard as it is, it also needs to be fun; we have to have joy in the work itself and the laughter and to have a good time with each other to bring it to life. We’re committed to that idea.”

The Spring Music Concert April 30 will feature the Octet, Magalia, Concert Band, Jazz Band, Chorale, and String Ensemble. A livestream will be available.