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On opening night this past Tuesday, the long-running Broadway backstage musical A Chorus Line, presented on Jan. 6-11 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, demonstrated that it still has legs (pun intended). Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, this 1976 winner of the Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante), and Best Original Score (composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Edward Kleban), as well as the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is an affectionate tribute to those often-anonymous members of the chorus who put the pizzazz into production numbers and sacrifice everything — their personal lives, their bodies, and sometimes their sanity — for love … love of the dance, and the sweet dream of one day moving from the shadows into the spotlight as a featured dancer or even a star.
The 2008-09 National Tour of A Chorus Line , produced by John Breglio and robustly re-staged by director Bob Avian and choreographer Baayork Lee, is chock-full of that old razzle-dazzle. It makes scenic designer Robin Wagner’s minimalist set come alive as 17 nervous finalists energetically audition for eight coveted chorus-line parts in a new musical, articulating their deepest hopes and fears out loud — in response to probing personal questions by that show’s head honcho, or as intimate confessions to the audience.
For most of the show, the charismatic cast is outfitted in drab rehearsal duds by costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge; but in the grand finale (a reprise of the show’s signature song “One”), they blossom when they don top hats and ritzy show costumes that scream “Look at Me, Ma, I’m Dancing in a Big Broadway Musical.”
Sebastian La Cause and Robyn Hurder star as Zach, a former chorus boy who’s now a powerful director/choreographer, and his old flame Cassie, a flashy former featured dancer who’s auditioning for a chorus-girl role. Desperate to work on Broadway again, Cassie is willing to take a part that Zach thinks is miles beneath her abilities; but will Zach let her start all over again at the bottom? That’s the $64,000 question.
Sebastian La Cause makes Zach a stern taskmaster who seems a bit Wizard of Oz-like as he barks out commands from far above the stage, and Robyn Hurder exudes the air of quiet desperation of a woman who hopes to stop her career freefall before she hits rock bottom. From time to time, La Cause peels a layer of the tough old onion to reveal Zach’s human side; and Hurder likewise bares Cassie’s secrets, one by one, as she awaits Zach’s inevitable question about why she left him, all those years ago.
Shannon Lewis is a hoot as sexy Sheila Bryant, who comes on way too strong to Zach and his assistant Larry (Brandon Tyler); and Kevin Santos gives a poignant performance as Paul, a gay Puerto Rican dancer who’s adopted an Italian surname and tells a harrowing backstory of the night that his parents showed up early and watched him perform in a drag show.
Bethany Moore is funny as tall, somewhat gawky Judy Turner; Mindy Dougherty provides some chuckles as Valerie Clark (“Dance: Ten, Looks: Three”), whose multiple plastic surgeries have made her the original Bionic Woman; Liza B. Domingo is cute as the vertically challenged Connie Wong; and Alex Ringler strikes some hilarious poses as the egotistical Gregory Gardner.
Clyde Alves as Mike, Venny Carranza (subbing for Anthony Wayne) as Richie, Dena DiGiancinto as Bebe, Derek Hanson as Don, Hollie Howard as Maggie, David Hull as Mark, Ian Liberto as Bobby Mills, Sterling Masters (subbing for Jessica Latshaw) as Kristine, Colt Prattes as Al, and Gabrielle Ruiz as Diana all add sharply etched portraits that help make the current production of A Chorus Line a crowd-pleaser.
Peopled with vivid — if sometimes a little repetitive — characters, this magnificent musical raises the curtain on the fierce behind-the-scenes competition to be members of the chorus. To steal a quote from the old Hanes hosiery commercial, A Chorus Line has got legs, and it knows how to use them.