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North Carolina Theatre Review: A Chorus Line Still Packs a Powerful Punch

September 25, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:


 

The North Carolina Theatre's 75th production, a vivacious version of A Chorus Line, received a lengthy and well-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of its Sunday matinee performance. Director/choreographer Mitzi Hamilton, the original Val in the 1975 Broadway premiere of A Chorus Line, has done a splendid job of recreating director/choreographer Michael Bennett's original staging and choreography for NCT's high-stepping cast.

This ground-breaking backstage musical, whose debut production won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is a rousing tribute to Broadway's frequently faceless and often unsung heroes and heroines in the chorus. Initially conceived by Bennett and co-choreographed by Bob Avian, A Chorus Line features an edgy book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, marvelous music by Marvin Hamlisch, and biting lyrics by Edward Kleban

The premise that a avant-garde director named Zach (Frank Kliegel) would ask some piercing and extremely personal questions during a "cattle call" for a major musical is definitely pre-PC. (The snarling self-appointed guardians of Political Correctness would probably employ a rusty spoon to separate Zach from his gonads!)

But Frank Kliegel plays the Zach of the pre-PC era more as an innovator in job-interview technique than as a bully. His probing questions are aimed finding out how much moxie and how much heart these would-be ladies and gentlemen of the chorus possess. Surely, the emotionally and physically fragile would crack under the stress of such a strenuous series of rehearsals.

In any case, Frank Kliegel gives a winning performance as the stern taskmaster. Jane Lanier, a Drama Desk Award nominee for Fosse on Broadway, is terrific as Zach's spunky former girlfriend Cassie, once a rising star but now inexplicably competing for a role far below her talent level.

Pamela Jordan is a treat as ultra-sexy Sheila, who comes on too strong, and Abbie Brady is a hoot as somewhat scatter-brained Judy Turner.

Philip Michael Baskerville is a veritable human dynamo as Richie; and Eric Sciotto is almost unbearably poignant as Paul, an accident-prone gay dancer who "came out" to his family in the most humiliating way imaginable.

Kendra Kassebaum is charming as Val, the original bionic woman with breast implants who has had everything else bobbed, lifted or tucked. Lauren Rodman is cute as Connie, whose height (4'10") and Chinese ancestry severely limit the roles that she is offered.

Ashley Adamek (Kristine), Renee Bonadio (Diana Morales), Paul Buschman (Don), Stephanie Fredricks (Maggie), John Arthur Greene (Roy), Michael Kennedy (Frank), Michael McGurk (Mark), Jennifer Menge (Tricia), Thomas Porter (Tom), Josh Prince (Mike), Spencer Rowe (Al), Jim T. Ruttman (Larry), Michael SanGiovanni (Greg), Kristin Sears (Bebe), Bret Shuford (Bobby), Jane Tarry (Vicki), Tiffany Trottier (Lois) and Bob Wrenn (Chorus) all make the most of their moments in the spotlight.

Exuberant instrumental accompaniment by musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy and orchestra makes such musical gems as "One (Singular Sensation)" and "What I Did for Love" sparkle all the more.

The uncredited scenery nicely sketches the outline of a rehearsal stage; and grand-finale costumes from the Musical Theatre of Wichita, Denise Schumaker's rehearsal togs, and Craig Stelzenmuller's lighting design also enhance the show's visual appeal.

This must-see musical, with its young and exceptionally talented cast superbly orchestrated by Mitzi Hamilton, is a feast for the ear and the eye and the soul moved by the hurdles that members of the chorus must clear in order to do what they do best: make the "stars" look good and wait for their own breakthrough opportunities.

The North Carolina Theatre presents A Chorus Line Thursday-Friday, Sept. 19-20, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 21, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 22, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center, 1 E. South St., Raleigh. $17-$58. 831-6950 or 834-4000. http://www.nctheatre.com/