BWW Reviews: A CHORUS LINE at Olney Theatre Center - One Singular Sensation
On our way to see A CHORUS LINE at the Olney Theatre Center we were listening to the Sirius/XM Broadway channel and they were playing AT THE BALLET. I thought that was a good sign. Tears came down my eyes as I recalled by daughter Britt playing "Maggie" while in high school at Catonsville Community College on May 3, 1996 (yes I still have the ticket stub). Maggie used to dance around in the living room with her arms up. I remember the lyric Maggie sings as part of the trio with Sheila and Bebe, "Maggie, do you want to dance? And I'd say, Daddy, I would love to..."
That was the last time I saw A CHORUS LINE and I had great anticipation of this production since Olney has a such a history of doing great work with musicals. It is also the first time since the passing of composer Marvin Hamlisch a year ago who is responsible for the gorgeous hummable tunes.
I give Olney Artistic Director Jason Loewith the "Chutzpah" Award for tackling this icon of a musical that is full of incredible dancing. When you turn to the first page in the program there is the note from Loewith that in 1989 he was an intern at New York's Public Theatre where A CHORUS LINE began before winning the Tony Award on Broadway in 1976. His job was to pick up the company manager reports from backstge and give them to the legendary Joe Papp.
I wonder if he ever envisioned he would be presenting this seminal work one day.
Thankfully he has and do not miss this amazing production of the work with the original choreography recreated and directed by Stephen Nachamie.
The story is quite simple. Director Zach (Carl Randolph) has assembled a group of dancers in 1975 who are taught a simple routine while singing "I Hope I Get It". What a great way to open a show and this ensemble is simply magnificent. After he selects those actors remaining, he places the aspiring actors on the "line", a white line place downstage.
Each has their picture and resume which they hold in front of their faces. But Zach wants to know why they chose to dance and get into this business.
Mike (Kyle Schliefer) sings about following his sister to dance class and knowing "I Can Do That".
I marveled at the beautiful "At the Ballet" sung by Sheila (Colleen Hayes), Bebe (Angela Millin), and Maggie (Jamie Kelton) and yes, I teared up.
Other highlights were "Nothing" sung by Diana (the incomporable Jessica Vaccaro) who plays a Latina who in high school could not comply with her drama teacher Mr. Karp who wanted her to "feel the cold". She also leads the cast in a stunning performance of "What I Did for Love".
"Dance: Ten; Looks: Three" (commonly known as "Tits and Ass") sung by Val (Jennifer Cordiner) was hysterical. Cordiner nailed it.
But the number everyone will remember is the anthem "The Music and the Mirror" sung and danced by Cassie (Michelle Aravena). I thought of a tee-shirt from the musical LITTLE WOMEN and a song sung by Sutton Foster called "Astonishing" because Aravena was just so ASTONSHING in this song. It was goose-bump city.
As it turns out, Aravena has a good pedigree. She was in the original 2007 revivial, played Anita in WEST SIDE STORY (directed by the late Arthur Laurents) and she must have been great as "Sophie" in the first MAMMA MIA! tour. I look forward to seeing her again in the future.
Adding to the great evening is the orchestra under the direction of Ross Scott Rawlings (also on Keyboards). Kudos to George Hummel on Reeds and Matt Belzer on Reeds, Tony Neenan on Trumpet (who has that great solo in "At the Ballet"), Jay Ellis on Trombone, Will Brumbach on Guitar, Frank Higgins on Bass, and Tom Harold (Drums and Percussion).