I doubt very few people under the age of fifty even know who Edward Kleban was let alone what he did for a living. Fame, in any profession these days, is fleeting. Probably the one category exception is ‘show business’. Such is the power of celebrity.
Ed Kleban was a composer and a lyricist who will always be remembered as the man who wrote the brilliant words to the music of composer Marvin Hamlisch; together creating one of Broadway’s longest and most iconic running musicals back in the 70’s: A Chorus Line”. “A Chorus Line” went on to become the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever, chalking up 6,137 performances. There are productions still running somewhere in countries around the globe.
Who were the creators of this Broadway phenomenon? Hamlisch was already an Oscar winning movie composer when he and Kleban were hired by theatre director and choreographer Michael Bennett to write the music and lyrics for the future blockbuster.
Their collaboration was a prickly one right from moment they met. Each man was a top-tier composer and a lyricist in his own right. They were not used sharing credits with others. Kleban made his mark as record producer for thirteen years writing lyrics and composing for others, but always wrote and composed for himself as well; ending up with trunk full of musical material that could fuel several musical productions.
Which brings us to the CV Repertory Theatre production of “A Class Act” that is creatively and wonderfully staged by CV REP founding artistic director Ron Celona. Librettists Linda Kline and Lonnie Price curated the songs and music of Kleban’s canon, but unlike the alchemists of old who failed to produce gold from lead, Kline and Price do indeed, deliver a treasure trove of golden music and lyrics honoring the brilliance of Kleban’s musical compositions; thanks to a sensational ensemble cast.
Jeffrey Landman) plays Kleban with charm, style, and terrific timing. He sings, he dances and he emotionally draws the audience into his nuanced performing orbit by the sheer force of his talent. As good as Landman is, however, he doesn’t do it alone. He has seven gifted cast mates who perfectly blend together as they tell the story of Edward Kleban, who left this planet far too early, a victim of mouth cancer. He was just 48 years old.
The musical is set in 1988 at a memorial service to Kleban being held at the Shubert Theatre in New York City. Ed appears at his own memorial. His friends and colleagues remember him and think back over the past. As the time shifts backward, the friends reminisce about the famous B.M.I. songwriting workshop conducted by music Impresario Lehman Engle (an imposing Sal Mistretta) that all attended.
As Ed interacts with the people in his life, he reveals his coming to grips with his ambition, successes, failures, and his relationship with his first love Sophie, winningly played by Julie Garnye. The on-stage chemistry and the scenes between Landman and Garnye are both vivid, compelling and poignant. Alas, their relationship, like so many in life, however, is destined to slowly drift apart.
Offering solid support in this outstanding ensemble cast is Rachel M. Johnson as Lucy, Ed’s last significant other. Craig Mc Eldowney plays Charley, a friend from BMI days and also as Marvin Hamlisch. Christina Morrell, portrays Felicia, Ed’s boss at Columbia Records where he toiled for 13 years as a record producer/composer/lyricist. Kristin Towers-Rowles plays Mona, one of Ed’s many love affair partners. Craig Cady portrays Bobby, a friend from the BMI days, and plays Michael Bennett, the creative force behind the success that became the blockbuster musical “A Chorus Line. This company of players sing, and dance in an exhilarating display of individual excellence within a team format. It doesn’t get much better than this group.
The creative team led by Celona and assistant director and choreographer Mark Esposito feature the expertise of Jimmy Cuomo’s set and projection designs, along with the costumes of Aslsa Lee, the lighting and technical expertise of Eddie Cancel and his team including sound designer Randy Hansen and technician Karen Goodwin. Stage Manager Louise Ross keeps this splendid show on it toes. The production also is blessed with the musical gifts of music director Scott Storr, and the orchestra that includes: Jeff Barish – Woodwins; Dave Hitchings – Drums; Bill Saitta – Bass.
“A Class Act” performs at CV Repertory Theatre through February 14, 2016. For ticket information and reservations call the box office at 760-296-2966.