Review: ‘A Chorus Line’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

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A Broadway musical about Broadway musicals—what could be better for theatre-lovers of all stripes? The iconic A Chorus Line truly fits the bill! It features music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. It was conceived, originally directed, and choreographed by the incomparable Michael Bennett. Plus, it won nine Tony awards, including Best Musical, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976!

J. Clayton Winters as Zach, Nicole Oberleitner as Cassie, and the Cast of A Chorus Line, now playing at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Mike Morones.
J. Clayton Winters as Zach, Nicole Oberleitner as Cassie, and the cast of A Chorus Line, now playing at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Mike Morones.

The current production of A Chorus Line at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts is a perfect homage to the original. Riverside’s Producing Artistic Director, Patrick A’Hearn, disclosed that he was waiting to assemble just the right combination of performers, creative team, and production staff before mounting A Chorus Line. He succeeded—and then some! Director-Choreographers Penny Ayn Maas and Justin Amellio brilliantly interpret Michael Bennett’s genius and Music Director Angie Benson beautifully captures the magic of Marvin Hamlisch.

The story is simple—but deceptively simple. A large group of Broadway dancers are auditioning for a new musical for which only eight will be chosen. They are sometimes referred to as “gypsies” who go from one show to another, always hoping for their big break, and sometimes referred to as “boys” and “girls,” regardless of age. They are dancers, but they are so much more than that. A Chorus Line does a deep dive into their individual personal lives—the triumphs and disappointments, sexual awakening, emotionally distant parents—that led them on their journey to Broadway.

Perhaps more than any other musical, A Chorus Line is a true ensemble piece. The ultra-talented cast at Riverside clearly demonstrates that a dancer is, at once, an artist and an athlete. They effortlessly move from rock and roll to ballet to tap to soft-shoe and back again—sometimes with a driving disco beat and sometimes with a soft elegance—and always with fabulous precision work.

The opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” rocks out with a rhythm and intensity that sets the emotional tone for the show. It’s impressive seeing some of the dancers making mistakes on purpose—a challenging assignment—to demonstrate the variety of talent that shows up for an audition. Later, a show-stopping number is “One,” which is a spectacular display of all the hat-cocking, eye-high kicking, ankle-popping, and much more, that we associate with a precision chorus line.

The individual and small-group performances are amazing, as well. For example, Josh McWhortor, who confidently plays Mike, does a sort of ragtime soft-shoe dance to “I Can Do That” and proves that he is a proficient (and comical!) acrobat.

The beautiful ballad “At the Ballet” is performed by Mackenna Milbourn as Sheila, Sydney Kirkegaard as Bebe, and Annalese Fusaro as Maggie. They wistfully speak about the disappointments in their childhood and then joyfully sing about how those disappointments were eased by entering the fairy-tale world of the ballet.

Brian Bruno plays Bobby, who tries to camouflage his “strange” and unhappy childhood with a hilarious monologue. He admits that he used to break into people’s houses, but insists that he didn’t steal anything. He just rearranged their furniture!

In “Montage, Part 4,” Richie, played by Anthony Cosby, talks of when he was a student-athlete and received a college scholarship. He quit to become a dancer because there’s “no scholarship to life.” The best way to describe Cosby’s incredible dance skills is “spring-loaded” because he is amazingly athletic and larger than life.

Anthony Cosby as Richie and the cast of A Chorus Line, now playing at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Mike Morones.
Anthony Cosby as Richie and the cast of A Chorus Line, now playing at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Photo by Mike Morones.

A clever novelty number is “Dance 10; Looks 3” which is performed by Abigail Gardner as Valerie. Gardner is cute and funny as she sings about how plastic surgery “enhanced” her life, and her performance is reminiscent of a 1930s screwball comedy.

Nicole Oberleitner plays Cassie, who left Broadway to become a Hollywood actress, but failed and returned to resume her Broadway dancing career. Zach, the director, played by J. Clayton Winters, had a relationship with Cassie but deeply resents her leaving and is not anxious to put her in the new show. In a transcendent performance of “The Music and The Mirror,” Oberleitner displays her fantastic singing voice as well as her strong and lithe dance talent.

Diana, played by Melinette Pallares, beautifully leads the company in the bittersweet, “What I Did for Love.” The song is not about romantic love, but rather, the love of music, dance, and theater, and the commitment to pursuing your dreams, despite the obstacles.

The foregoing is just a sampling of the talent in the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts production of A Chorus Line. It is truly “one singular sensation” which should not be missed!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.

A Chorus Line plays through September 16, 2018, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For tickets, call (540) 370-4300, or purchase them online.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.