Tony winner Edward Kleban had been gone for thirteen years when Broadway finally gave the songwriter his due (albeit for a scant 135 performances, previews included) in the biomusical A Class Act, the latest one-night-only concert staged reading from Musical Theatre Guild, and one that could scarcely have been improved upon.
Though Kleban (Joshua Finkel) had been writing words and music for the Broadway shows he envisioned since his teen years, bouts of mental illness (and his musicals’ ill-conceived storylines) led to failure and frustration until Broadway superstar Michael Bennett (Jeffrey Christopher Todd) convinced him to write lyrics to Marvin Hamlisch’s (Zachary Ford) melodies for a little show about “gypsies” that would go on to run for 6,137 performances on The Great White Way.
A Chorus Line proved the beginning and the end of Ed Kleban’s career. Just twelve years later he was dead.
A Class Act takes as its starting point Ed’s memorial, at which a group of his closest friends reminisce about the composer-lyricist’s life and loves.
Among those telling tales of Ed (and singing songs he wrote) is composer-conductor Lehman Engel (John Massey), whose weekly BMI Musical Theatre Workshop meetings introduced Ed to aspiring songwriters Bobby (Todd), Charley (Ford), Felicia (Monica Quinn), Lucy (Julie Garnyé), and Mona (Melissa Fahn), each of whom has his or her own anecdote to share.
A Class Act was probably too small a musical ever to become a Broadway hit like its 2001 competitors The Producers, The Full Monty, and the 42nd Street revival, but its intimacy fits MTG like a glove, especially with 99-seat-theater whiz Jon Lawrence Rivera directing with the same attention to detail he pays straight plays.
A terrific Finkel gives us Ed Kleban warts and all, a prickly kind of guy who despite rough edges wins us over in song after song (including “Light On My Feet,” “Better,” and “Self-Portrait”), just as he did his friends.
A Class Act gives each of its cast members a chance to shine, from Fahn at her sultry, seductive best as Mona (“Mona”) to Todd’s handsome, effervescent Bobby (“Bobby’s Song”) to Garnyé’s warm and winning Lucy (“Broadway Boogie Woogie”) to Quinn’s divalicious Felicia (“Don’t Do It Again”) to Ford’s solo-less but nonetheless attention-grabbing Charley to Massey’s commanding Lehman (“Charm Song”).
As for Sophie, despite limited stage time, the always fabulous Butiu (fresh from her off-Broadway triumph in Here Lies Love) makes a powerful impression as the woman Ed loved neither wisely nor too well, and her “The Next Best Thing To Love” is simply sublime.
Kay Cole, A Chorus Line’s very first Maggie, proves an inspired choice to choreograph A Class Act, and though not a dancy show, the “chair-eography” of “Gauguin’s Shoes” and Cole’s A Chorus Line medley are delightful, particularly as accompanied by musical director-conductor-pianist Brent Crayon and A Class Act’s pitch-perfect three-piece combo.
A. Jeffrey Schoenberg of AJS Costumes garbs the uniformly dark-haired cast in basic black.
Jill Marie Burke is production supervisor. Art Brickman is production stage manager and Kirsten D’Agostaro Shook is assistant stage manager.
One of Musical Theatre Guild’s most intimate musicals in years, A Class Act shows off MTG at its absolute professional best. It’s one classy act indeed.
Alex Theatre, Glendale.
February 21, 2016
Photos: Alan Weston