By Shari Goldstein Stern
Special to the TJP
“Five-six-seven-eight” and the diverse cast of A Chorus Line (ACL) struts into its magic, where characters will share what’s truly behind their glitz. Each has a compelling story to tell, and each tells it through song and dance, backed by Marvin Hamlisch’s unforgettable, Tony award-winning score.
Uptown Players (UP) will present ACL at the Moody Performance Hall in the Downtown Arts District (formerly Dallas Performance Hall) Feb. 2-4, and the production is true to the original Broadway script.
One member of the cast, playing Zach, the director, is Dallasite Dan Servetnick. With credits from a cache of Dallas-area theaters, the triple-threat is currently finishing out a run of Pegasus Theatre’s A Minor Case of Murder, Kurt Kleinmann’s 19th in the Black & White series and 34th production, which will run through Jan. 28 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center.
Concurrently, Dan’s in rehearsal for ACL. This show opens on the bare stage of a grueling audition for a new Broadway musical. Dan plays Zach, the director running the audition, and he says, “The director character really keeps the show moving. He opens it playing one of the dancers and appears on stage a few times during some scenes, and of course in the finale. Meanwhile, the audience hears Zach giving direction from the back of the theater.
Dan is no stranger to Dallas-area theater. He was seen in UP’s Sweeny Todd and It Shoulda Been You, he said, “and (in the latter show) I got to play a part closer to home, a good Jewish father, opposite the wonderful Linda Leonard.” He has also been seen at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and many others in the Metroplex.
According to the dancer, for people who have never worked in theater, his ACL character, Zach, may come across as tough and heartless at times. He clarifies, “There are those times, during some very emotional moments, that Zach comes onto the stage and shows his empathy and that he actually does care about everyone on the line.
“ACL is the first show I saw on Broadway. It left its mark on me,” Dan said. “My brother, who passed away 30 years ago, was my idol and introduced me to theater with this show. I remember walking up to the Shubert Theatre like it was yesterday. And even more, I remember waiting at the stage door to see the cast exit the theater.”
This was the trajectory launching him into his career in theater.
That almost changed when, in 1980, Dan was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy (MD). At the time the medical community didn’t know much about that form of the disease. Doctors told him that he would lead an inactive life and that he would be in a wheelchair in five years. “I thought my life was over. But I decided that I wasn’t going down without a fight. I also decided that I would do what I love as long as I could.” He was 19.
About 15 years ago Dan had a health issue and got connected with a progressive-thinking physician who couldn’t believe the dancer was still mobile, thanks in part to a strict exercise regimen. The doctor started putting all his MD patients on that exercise program. He saw improvements in every one of them.
Physicians got Dan involved with some doctors from Israel who were doing a study with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Well, I’m still here and I’m still going strong. Dancing as part of this show is something I never thought I would be able to do,” he said.
Dan added that there are compelling moments in ACL that will resonate with many. “The ‘What I Did for Love’ scene is that way for me. I never did theater for the money. I do it because it brings me so much joy.”
Dan continued that when his parents moved to Philadelphia, it was not long after the Arab revolt in Algeria. Several other family members came to join them in Philadelphia. “I was very young, but I believe we had 15 or more people living in our home at one time.”
The actor first started appreciating the performing arts because his family always had music in their home. “There was a specific Jewish radio program that we would listen to. Both my parents loved to sing.” Dan and his two brothers always lit the Hanukkah menorah as children. Each had his own. “And with three brothers, it made for a beautiful sight,” he recalled. After he played the part of Santa Claus in his elementary school, he said the music never stopped.
His high school had a quality music and theater program. “I sang with the All-Philadelphia Boys’ Choir and Men’s Chorale for several years and attended the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts.”
Today, in addition to his robust theater career, Dan makes time to serve the community. He does work for the Jewish Community Center, teaching voice and shooting video of their shows.
Dan has a daughter and grandchildren who celebrate Christmas, and so the whole family participates in gift-giving.
“Being Jewish isn’t about a religion to me. It is a culture. It instilled beliefs in me that I will carry until the day I die,” he said.
Dan grew up in a heavily Jewish-populated section of Philadelphia.
“When my parents moved to a very new, developing area, my father helped start the synagogue, the Fox Chase Community Center, and we were at services every Friday night and I had my bar mitzvah there.”
Dan shared some more about his family’s history.
“My grandparents were from Russia, Poland, Algeria and Philadelphia. My grandfather, Abe Servetnick, was very religious. He lived a few doors down from the synagogue and was there when the doors opened.”
Today, Dan has his hands full with theater, and he says that he couldn’t be happier. A Minor Case of Murder, presented by Pegasus Theatre, will run through Jan. 28 at the Charles Eisemann Center in Richardson. For information, visit pegasustheatre.org.
Performances of A Chorus Line are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 2 and 3, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, at the Moody Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St. in the downtown Arts District. For tickets and more information, visit uptownplayers.org.