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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
A Class Act

"I thought I'd drop by
To hear the people gushing' 'cause after you die,
They always get you blushing"/i>
— Ed Kleban introducing the anthem song "Light On My Feet" of Linda Kline and Lonny Price to the gifted song writer who died before realizing his dream of writing the music as well as lyrics for a Broadway musical.
A Class Act
Ross Baum as Edward Kleban
(Photo by Chris Reis )
It's been more than ten years since I saw Linda Kline and Lonnie Price's bio musical about prolific song writer Ed Kleban, first on Manhattan' Theatre Club's intimate second stage, then on Broadway. Lonnie Price and Randy Graff brought the song writer and the doctor who was his childhood sweetheart and long-time best friend to vivid stage life. Kline, who was Kleban's companion during his last years and Price, who also directed, did a superb job of telling Kleban's story through twenty-one of the many songs that remained unpublished at the time of his untimely death from lung cancer.

While backstage musicals featuring unfamiliar songs written by someone whose claim to fame rests on his lyrics for a single show (A Chorus Line) aren't exactly a sure-fire recipe for a long-running hit. As it turned out, A Class Act did have enough class and heart to make the leap from off-Broadway to Broadway. But the charm of many of the songs, the cleverly inserted excerpts from A Chorus Line good reviews and five Tony awards notwithstanding, the lack of a big name subject brought the curtain down after just three months at the Ambassador Theater.

I liked A Class Act well enough to look forward to seeing it once again, especially given the Berkshire Theater Group's synergistic summer 2012 scheduling. Their annual big musical at the Colonial was none other than the legendary A Chrous Line which made this smaller bio-musical about its lyricist and with composer Marvin Hamlisch and director Michael Bennett as characters an interesting companion piece. While the actors at th Unicorn are young unknowns (many still in college), director Robert Moss is a seasoned pro, the founder of New York's prestigious Playwrights Horizon. And to lend additional fresh insights, Linda Kline has been on scene to lend a collaborative hand.

Promising as all this sounds, I'm afraid I can't say that I liked this A Class Act as well, or even better , than I did years ago. The story is the same: The setup is a memorial organized by frinds and lovers held at the theater where A Chorus Line, the central event in Kleban's musical history was still playing. The memorial setup, leads into a flashback that takes us all the way back to Kleban's nervous breakdown while still in college, his relationship with his childhood sweetheart Sophie, his participation in the famous BMI musical theater workshop led by composer Lehman Engel . Of course, there's also the making of A Chorus Line and its, for Kleban, frustrating aftermath that made him one of the theater's most successful failures.

A Class Act remains a touching tribute to a gifted songsmith who died too young, The creators still deserve a shoutout for the way they used Kleban's own music to accompany the story telling and allowed him to be a ghostly participant in the musical narrative. Unfortunately, the current piece suffers from certain missing elements, and the addition of several musical numbers is more of a deficit than an asset.

About those missing elements. . .

This is a small musical with just eight actors playing multiple roles so it doesn't call for a big band. But the current production has downsized the original small band to a single piano which creates the feeling and sound of a rehearsal rather than a finished show. The Unicorn happens to have two little raised platforms at ether side of the stage where a small combo could easily have be accommodated. Surely there's no shortage of musicians in this music rich area, and the budget could have been stretched to cover a couple of other musicians.

Linda Kline in the subscriber enrichment notes comments on the Unicorn casts being considerably younger than the characters they play as a positive because "the piece is about aspirations, and here are young people who are aspiring to a life in the theatre or a creative life." While Ms. Kline has a point, this casting suffers from a loss of all-out ensemble excellence. While Ross Baum quite impressively portrays Kleban as a neurotic nebbish, much as Lonny Price did in the original, and Anya Whelan-Smith brings warmth and a good voice to the role of Sophie, the ensemble as a whole mostly fails to really get inside the various roles. Tessa Hope Slovis plays the aggressive producer too broadly. The youthful casting misses the mark with Lehman Engel who was the group's older mentor. Here, without any special makeup, Robbie Simpson comes off as just one of the gang.

To move on to Linda Kline's additions to this production . . .

The new, "character" she calls "Mr. Sheep" really doesn't add either depth, humor or pathos. As for the songs restored for this version, "Harold" is a nice addition, well sung by Sophie, so is Ed's "Nightmare." But the original show was long enough at 2 hours plus intermission, and since there are neither cuts or a step up in pace to accommodate these added songs (as well as an extra reprise), this production now clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes which is way too long for a small, modestly staged show like this, which would be less wearying at 90 minutes without an intermission. Actually A Chorus Line too is longer than it should be, especially since it doesn't have an intermission, but what can be forgiven in a show that defined Broadway for generations of theater goers, but is more like a fatal flaw in A Class Act.

A Class Act
Music and lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by Linda Kline and Lonny Price
Directed by Robert Moss
Musical direction by Mark Gionfriddo
Musical staging by Michael Callahan
Cast: Rachael Balcanoff (Lucy), Ross Baum (Ed Kleban), Marie Eife (Mona), Brian Scannell (Charley, Marvin, Dr. Nodine, Jean-Claude), Eddie Shields (Bobby, Michael Bennet), Robbie Simpson (Lehman), Tessa Hope Slovis (Felicia), Anya Whelan-Smith (Sophie)
Scenic design: Brett J. Banakis,
Costume design: David Murin
Lighting design: Solomon Weisbard
Sound design: Brendan F. Doyle
Stage Manager: Kate Johnson
Running Time: Approx 2 hours and 45 minutes, includingintermission
Berksire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theater
From July 11 to August 4th; opening on July 14
Tickets $45
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 14th press opening
Musical Numbers
*Additional lyrics by Brian Stein
**Additional lyrics by Glenn Slater
%Additional choreography by Marguerite Derriks
Act One
  • Light On My Feet */Ed & Company
  • Fountain in the Garden/Company
  • Harold/Sophie
  • One More Beautiful Song/Ed with Sophie
  • Fridays At Four/Company
  • Bobby's Song/Bobby
  • Charm Song/Lehman & Company
  • Paris Through The Window**/Ed, Bobby, Charley
  • Mona/Mona
  • Making Up Ways/Ed
  • Under Separate Cover/Lucy, Sophie & Ed
  • Don't Do It Again/Felicia& Ed
  • Gauguin's Shoes/Ed & Company
  • Don't Do It Again (Reprise)/ Lehman
  • Follow Your Star/Sophie,Ed & Company
Act Two
  • Better/ Ed & Company
  • Scintillating Sophie/Ed
  • The Next Best Thing To Love/Sophie
  • Broadway Boogie Woogie/Lucy
  • A Chorus Line excerpts $/Company
  • Better (reprise)/Ed & Company
  • I Choose You/Ed & Lucy
  • The Nightmare/Ed
  • Say Something Funny/Company
  • I Won't Be There/Ed
  • Self Portrait/Ed
  • Self Portrait (reprise)/Company

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