Musical Theatre West follows its superb 70th Anniversary revival of Oklahoma! with a first-rate production of the considerably more recent yet equally groundbreaking A Chorus Line.

Now the fifth-longest-running musical in Broadway history, A Chorus Line (book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and concept and original direction/choreography by Bennett) remains as fresh, as entertaining, and as powerful as ever with Roger Castellano directing and recreating Bennett’s iconic choreography.

The show opener, “I Hope I Get It,” still packs the same wham-bang punch as ever, with its two-dozen auditioners once again executing those signature Bennett leaps, as Castellano and his talented triple-threats make sure that each dancer stays in character, making the kind of mistakes a Broadway gypsy might when learning new steps on the spot, all the while demonstrating the dance expertise that has led them to this last set of call-backs.

Chuck Saculla is Zach, the imperious director-choreographer of an unnamed Broadway-bound show whose aspiring ensemble members have today reached the final round of auditions. With the help of his faithful Boy Friday Larry (Louis A. Williams), Zach must now whittle down the seventeen finalists to a mere four boys and four girls. To do so, the Michael Bennett stand-in has decided to go beyond the usual testing of song-and-dance expertise, the better to probe more deeply into just what makes these young gypsies tick, and little by little, he and the audience get to know each of them up close and personal.


These would-be Chorus Liners are (in no particular order):

• Peppy Mike (Daniel Switzer), who as a child tagged along to his older sister’s dance class and discovered to his delight that “I Can Do That.”


• Maggie (Kristen Lamoureux), the product of a broken home, who recalls how her life changed “At The Ballet,” along with the lives of sweet, shy Bebe (Camden Gonzales) and soon-to-be-30 diva Sheila (Sherisse Springer).

• Chinatown native Connie (Momoko Sugai), still able to play teen roles despite having been born in the Year Of The Chicken some thirty-plus years ago.

• Flamboyantly fabulous Gregory Gardner (Matthew J. Vargo), born Sidney Kenneth Beckenstein, who discovered his sexual identity when the girl he was fondling asked if he wanted to move to second base, causing him to realize that his one-word response was “No!”


• Cassie (Chryssie Whitehead), one of Zach’s exes, who finds herself back on square one (i.e. a spot in the chorus) following several featured roles on the Great White Way.

• Feisty Don (Adam Pellegrine), former strip club employee turned hoofer … and father of two.


• Bobby (Matthew Williams), who’s come a long, long way since growing up “different” in conservative Buffalo, NY.

• Gawky, quirky Judy (Marisa Field), who recalls the joy she felt dancing around the living room for her first audience (of one)—her Daddy.

• African-American Richie (Frank Keith Barber), who very nearly became a kindergarten teacher before he thought to himself “Shit!”—and changed his life path.

• Married couple Al (Venny Carranza) and Kristine (Theresa Murray), who describe in song what it’s like for a would-be triple-threat (Kristine) to be unfortunately unable to “Sing.”

• Formerly homely Val (Tory Trowbridge), who, upon discovering after an audition that she’d been rated “Dance Ten, Looks Three,” decided on the spot to go and get herself some “tits and ass.”

• Mark (Marco Ramos), the baby of the group, who recalls his first wet dream and the self-diagnosis he came up with—gonorrhea.

• Puerto Rican Paul (Steven Rada), who began his stage career in female drag while still a teen, only to have his old-country parents discover him making his living in high heels and a feathered headdress.

• Diana (Ayme Olivo), who realized in her high school acting class that when her fellow students were busy “becoming” bobsleds, tables, sports cars, and ice cream cones, all she was able to feel was … “Nothing.”

Only a cast of bona fide triple-threats capable of convincing an audience that they are indeed ready for their first (or next) Broadway show have it in them to bring the abovementioned characters to believable life, one reason that theatergoers should probably avoid all but the most professional of A Chorus Lines.

Not surprisingly, Musical Theatre West has assembled a talented young cast who can not only dance but also sing and act their characters’ diverse stories.

6xxx Among those making the strongest impressions on the Carpenter Center stage are Switzer’s spirited Mike, flashing us back to a childhood in which he learned that “I Can Do That,” Saculla as a dynamic, charismatic Zach, and Ayme Olivo, the production’s strongest vocalist, making Diana’s renditions of the wry “Nothing” and the exquisite “What I Did For Love,” two of the evening’s most memorable highlights.

Murray makes it three delightful Kristines in a row (having previously played the vocally challenged dancer at the Lewis Family Playhouse and 3-D productions), this time opposite a couldn’t-be-better Carranza, segueing from Mike at 3-D to her supportive hubby Al. Also repeating terrifically from 3-D’s production last May are Lamoureux’s sweetheart of a Maggie and Sugai’s spunky Connie, while Rada (Mike at the Lewis) takes on the role of Paul this time, his subtly, beautifully played monolog the evening’s dramatic high point. MTW regular Vargo makes for a very East Side Gregory, while Barber, Field, Gonzalez, Pellegrine, Ramos, Springer, Trowbridge, and both Williamses have their own standout moments. And there couldn’t be A Chorus Line without Donna McKechnie’s signature “The Music And The Mirror,” danced here by a striking Whitehead, who created the role of Kristine in the 2006 Broadway revival.

Completing the cast of talented triple-threats are the nine “cut dancers” eliminated about thirteen minutes into the show (and that’s two more than most productions usually feature): Carlin Castellano (Vickie), Quinten Craig (Jarad), Preston Diaz (Frank), Amy Garbett (Lois), Sabrina Olivieri (Linda), Jane Papageorge (Tricia), Andy Rogers (Tom), Timothy Stokel (Roy), and Jon M. Wailin (Butch).

2xxx MTW’s set design recreates the 1975 original, possibly the simplest in Broadway history—a bare stage backed with a wall of mirrors that’s been lit with considerable razzle-dazzle by Jean-Yves Tessier. Jessica Olson has coordinated the Theoni V. Aldredge-inspired costume designs we’ve come to associate with each character, including those gold lamé finale costumes.

Musical director David Lamoureux conducts a Broadway-ready pit orchestra (hidden behind the upstage mirrors as in the Broadway original), with sound designer Julie Ferrin mixing instrumentals and vocals to perfection.

Kelly Marie Pate is stage manager, Mary Ritenhour assistant stage manager and production manager, and Kevin Clowes technical director. Carranza is dance captain.

A Chorus Line newbies will find in this Musical Theatre West production a solid introduction to the Michael Bennett classic, while those who’ve seen ACL again and again will find much in this excellent revival to cheer about.

Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
April 14, 2013
Photos: Ken Jacques

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