BWW Review: A CHORUS LINE CAST IS ONE SINGULAR SENSATION at Eight O' Clock Theatre
There are very few shows I would define in one word and on Saturday night, Eight O' Clock Theatre's production of A Chorus Line, winner of nine Tonys and a Pulitzer, became one of them - Mesmerizing.
From the first notes of Marvin Hamlisch's score that drifted into the audience from the live orchestra pit to the tap dance routine to the flashy gold top hats at the finale, this show was nothing short of spectacular. A Chorus Line is not often seen in community theatre because it requires multiple triple-threats - singers, dancers and actors in one talented package. Fortunately, director James Grenelle and assistant director Rocco Morabito found a stage full of them.
The curtain was wide open and the audience could only see Tom Hansen's no-frills, bare black stage. Enter the cast and the first dance number and the backdrop magically rotated to reveal mirrors and the illusion of dancers that never ended. This was complimented perfectly by the lighting design of Michael Newton-Brown.
In this musical, the audience eavesdrops on dozens of dancers at an audition. The auditionees, dressed in comfortable rehearsal clothes - in contrast to the stress they feel - reveal exactly what racing through their minds when in the spotlight, during a try-out for an upcoming Broadway show where only eight spots are available.
Despite its age, the story still resonates with anybody who has ever stood in front of a director praying not to hear the words "thank you for your time but...."
Musically directed by Jeremy D. Silverman and with choreography by Amy Fee, the large cast included returning and debuting actors on the Eight O' Clock Theatre stage - Stephen Fee as Zach, Ronnie DeMarco as Larry, Chad Mueller as Don, Anissa Perona as Diana, Kelsey Seals as Maggie, Steven Fox as Mike, Francesca Iacovacci as Connie, Brian Boytek, Jr. as Greg, Amy Fee as Cassie, Christina Capehart as Shelia, Aaron Castle as Bobby, Jenelle Vinachi as Bebe, Emily Sinz as Judy, Neftali Benitez as Richie, Daniel McKay as Al, Margee Sapowsky as Kristine, Ashlyn Bigley as Val, Patrick Higgins as Mark, and Rico Navedo as Paul.
This is not your everyday run-of-the-mill audition. Mostly offstage, the director Zach (Stephen Fee) wants to know about his dancers on a much more intimate level, so he challenges them to tell about themselves, what made them want to dance and what would happen if they could never dance again.
After some initial hesitation, they respond in a series of vignettes and songs that range from funny to tear-jerking, addressing the dancer's dream to perform on Broadway.
Going in, having seen the movie version over 30 years ago, I absolutely didn't realize that the majority of my favorite songs on my Pandora Broadway station were from this single musical. Amy made this classic feel as fresh and as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1975.
If you had an hour, I would mention every performer in the cast - they were that good. As this is supposed to be short and sweet, I will recognize the standout performances and hope their praise reflects the caliber of the cast as a whole.
The superb dancing by Larry (Ronnie DeMarco) was a joy to watch. Succinct and with absolute precision are words that come to mind when watching this professional senior choreographer take to the stage.
Dancing by 14-year-old ninth grader Patrick Higgins who played Mark was phenomenal. He captured the awkwardness of youth, a young man just starting out. In a cast of 19, I could not take my eyes of him or the fluidity in which his body moved when he danced. I expect that we will eventually see Patrick's name attached to many Broadway performances.
Christina Capehart lit up the stage with her portrayal of the brash and overtly sexy-with-an-attitude redhead Sheila. She reveals a softer side discussing a life filled with rejection in the song "At the Ballet," sung beautifully together with the magnificent vocals of Bebe (Jenelle Vinachi) and Maggie (Kelsey Seals) where both shared their own unpleasant childhoods.
For some laughter, there was married couple Kristine (Margee Sapowsky) and Al (Daniel McKay) in the patter song "Sing," explaining how Kristine couldn't hit a note if her life depended on it.
Additionally, ponytailed Ashlyn Bigley was perfect as Val, once-ugly-now-gorgeous full-breasted and derriered dancer who strutted around the stage with funny number "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three (Tits and Ass) proudly showcasing her new cosmetic surgery.
Amy Fee played Cassie, a dancer who once had been featured on Broadway and whose romantic past with Zach complicated her audition for a chorus line role. Amy, in her red dress bathed in red light, dancing in front of the mirror was extraordinary and moving.
Neftali Benitez who played Richie was just fun to watch on stage. He had a fantastic voice and exuberant energy.
Rico Navedo who played Paul deserves a standing-ovation. His emotional monologue about dropping out of school, finding himself in the world of drag, and being discovered by his parents was another show highlight.
The musical also included theatre standards such as "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love," "I Can Do That," and the classic "One."
But two of my favorite moments came from one actress - the shows iconic numbers "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love" performed exquisitely by Diana (Anissa Perona). As both are my most loved songs in the entire repertoire, I was hoping for a strong voice and Diana knocked it out of the park.
Just like the characters they were portraying, this cast put it all on the line - a two-hour strenuous workout that left them glowing with perspiration when greeting their guests in the lobby. A Chorus Line at Eight O' Clock Theatre is worth your time and truly a singular sensation.
A Chorus Line runs through July 23.