A Chorus Line at Olney Theatre Center is two hours of pure musical theatre bliss. The show runs on high octane energy from the fast-paced opening music with Michael Bennett’s signature choreography deliciously recreated by Stephen Nachamie who also directed.
The complete 25 member ensemble is stellar and deliver spectacular renditions of their respective songs, notably Jaimie Kelton as Maggie with the emotional depth for “At the Ballet.” Other standouts include Kyle Schliefer as Mike who dances up a storm with energy and zeal in “I Can Do That.”
All of the performers have the exquisitely chiseled bodies of professional dancers and several are eye-popping knockouts. Colleen Hayes is stunning with her over the top attitude and never ending curves as Sheila, while Jennifer Cordiner as Val is ideal in the “Dance Ten, Looks Three” number. Steven Sofia is hulky and solid as Greg, while Bryan Knowlton is a deliberate and sensitive Paul having performed the role on national tour. Momoko Sugai is a little powerhouse as Connie Wong, and Tony Thomas is a high stepping Richie, although I missed the character’s notorious high octane vocals.
Carl Randolph as Zach brings a legacy of having toured in the national company, with commanding vocals barking out directives and dance routines, prying personal information out of the reluctant dancers, and offering gentle support when the digging goes too far.
This Olney production is extra poignant as living testament of the show “going on” no matter what. In this case, performers shifted roles and new cast members were brought in to replace injured performers. That’s what happened for Michelle Aravena, originally cast as Diana Morales, who, just days before the show opened, shifted to perform the workhorse role of Cassie, a notoriously difficult triple threat demanding spectacular vocal chops, dancing, and acting skills. Cassie’s role challenges the old performance dichotomy of identifying oneself as a singer who dances or a dancer who sings since she must do it all, backward and in heels, as a compellingly complex character.
Obviously no slouch, Aravena’s professional credentials include performing the role on Broadway in the original 2007 revival, a national tour of West Side Story (Anita), Jersey Boys and Les Misérables. That the Olney cast had the depth to even have her on the line is a marvel.
Being able to secure Jessica Vaccaro as Diana Morales is just as notable — she was nominated for a national award for the role and came in to join the cast a few days before opening. Vaccaro delivers a powerful rendition of “Nothing.”
Lighting by Andrew F. Griffin transitions from quietly somber, to half-lit for emotional reflections, to spooky for the nightmarish sequences of turmoil and interior distress to mega-watt high voltage for the final scene that will not disappoint. The high voltage lighting on the moving panels designed by scenic designer James Dardenne is breathtaking.
The costumes have a special flair –the golden sparkly vestments for the finale are embedded with beautifully designed sequin patterns across the vests, lower sleeves and cumberbunds. Even the flat tops of the ubiquitous top hats glitter and sparkle with pizzazz, a perfect tribute by Brad Musgrove to Broadway’s glamorous appeal . The orchestra conducted by Ross Scott Rawlings, also on keyboard, rocked the house without drowning out the important stories, a significant feat.
A Chorus Line
Closes Sept 8, 2013
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
2 hours, 10 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $31 – $63
Tuesdays thru Sundays
A Chorus Line was groundbreaking in so many ways, including sharing personal stories, not just skimming the surface, but going deep into uncharted territory as to share why performers go through the grueling auditions and rehearsal process to be part of a show. The good, bad, and achingly sad parts come out in those stories and rehearsals, as well as the potential for injury, as shown by what actually happened for this show.
No matter how many times you’ve seen it, the messages still have an impact, and director Nachamie, a Chorus Line alum, has polished this cast to shine as bright as anything I’ve seen on Broadway. He’s gotten to the heart of the show in blending the stellar songs, dances, moods, and messages because he gets it with a resonance that permeates the production, enough to keep it popping despite the last minute cast changes. The soul searching is real and palpable as the characters ponder “What I did for Love” having seen comrades exit with injuries, but they soldier on, dancing with intense frenetic fury, giving it all they’ve got and holding nothing back. Nothing.
Finally, in this year of the Supreme Court ruling denouncing DoMA, the personal stories of dancers who have struggled with accepting their sexual identities is also incredibly touching.
How many times can one see A Chorus Line? The spectacular show up at Olney is worth the trip. One singular sensation, indeed.
A Chorus Line . Concept by Michael Bennett . Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante. Music by Marvin Hamlisch and Lyrics by Edward Kleban . Directed by Stephen Nachamie . Original Michael Bennett choreography recreated by Stephen Nachamie . Featuring Michelle Aragena, Kurt Boehm, Elyse Collier, Jennifer Cordiner, Parker Drown, Sam Edgerly, Christie Farrell, Jonathan Blake Flemings, Jay Garrick, Arielle Gordon, Colleen Hayes, Jaimie Kelton, Heidi L. Kershaw, Bryan Knowlton, Angela Millin, Carl Randolph, Taylor Elise Rector, Kyle Schliefer, Steven Sofia, Momoko Sugai, Derek John Tatum, Tony Thomas, Joseph Tudor, Jessica Vaccaro, and Carl Michael Wilson.
Music Director/Conductor and New Orchestrations: Ross Scott Rawlings . Scenic Designer James Dardenne . Costume Designer Brad Musgrove . Lighting Designer Andrew F. Griffin . Sound Designer Matt Rowe . Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Andrew White . BroadwayWorld
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
John Glass . DramaUrge
Tim Smith . Baltimore Sun
Steve Charing . MDTheatreGuide
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts