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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

'A Chorus Line' is a hit at the Olney

A Chorus Line at the Olney Theatre Center/Stan Barouh photo

This production is so hot it was extended less than a week after it opened.

And dance, natch, is what it’s all about at the Olney Theatre Center's biggest musical staged in its 75-year history.   

A Chorus Line has 24 performers and an eight-piece orchestra and all the flash and flames with melodrama and pizzazz and lots of high kicks that you expect.

We marveled at the possibility that all the performers might be local, not impossible with the regional wealth of talent, and many are.  Others arrive from national touring shows and Broadway, including Michelle Aravena who was "Tricia" in the 2007 Broadway revival and who is featured on the cast recording.

By now, most know the background of the story and the show's history as one of Broadway's longest-running musicals, the winner of nine Tonys in 1976 and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. 

The story is based on real life experiences of a group of dancers struck by a sagging economy in the mid-1970s when there were not enough parts to go around for all to be gainfully employed in New York's theatre scene.

They tell their stories to each other, the heartbreaks, the rejections, the successes, and away we go. But, it's not only their stories but the viewer's stories, too, since we all struggle with life's ups and downs and compete for the top spot. Selling, or rather promoting, ourselves is de rigueur in today's world and to "follow your passion" like these dancers can mean near starvation.

The set is a dance studio, an audition with a full length (floor to ceiling, i.e., huge) mirror behind the dancers so the audience watches them perform and rehearse in front of the mirror (which makes the stage appear much larger than it is) as if…they are audience members watching a rehearsal and eavesdropping. Quite unique, and for the 1970s, it was revolutionary.

The show's initial 24 dancers are quickly cut to 17 who are the main focus of the play.  Artificial selection (?) shrinks them at the end to the final Great Eight, and if you don't know who "wins," it's fun to try and pick them out.  I was nowhere near close. 

Offstage and behind the audience, the show's director, "Zach" (Carl Randolph) calls out questions and makes comments to the dancers, one of whom, "Cassie" (Nancy Lemenager), has been his former "partner." Their spark has long died out, and the intermingling on stage and weak attempt to reconcile come across as stilted and artificial. Some sex is better than no sex, I suppose (on stage or anywhere else). (The notes say Mr. Randolph's first professional production was as "Bobby" in the national tour of A Chorus Line in 1982, but he doesn't look that old.)

The final scene takes a glorious turn when the rehearsal clothes come off, and gold and dazzle take over, and real show costumes come on.

The production's fast pace without intermission slowed a few times with laborious dialogues which, if shortened or entirely omitted, would improve enjoyment. But it may be the action which lulled me into expecting continuous movement and entertainment, rather like children who expect it non-stop.  The show seems far shorter than two hours.

Director/choreographer Stephen Nachamie refashioned the dancing for this production, and his notes describe his first experience with A Chorus Line 20 years ago when he was 18 and played "Mark."  He's directed many national and regional shows including the Olney's 1776, Camelot, and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Stand-outs on the Olney stage are Kurt Boehm as "Larry," the show's "co-director," Colleen Hayes, as sassy "Sheila," Elyse Collier as "Judy," and the melodious voice of Jaimie Kelton as "Maggie."

You'll like hearing again "What I Did for Love, "One," and "Dance: Ten; Looks Three." Group harmonies are the best.

Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012), former pops conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra, wrote the music and won the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize.

Andrew F. Griffin will certainly be nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lighting Design which in a memorable scene showers two actors talking down stage while other performers dance in slow motion in subdued shadows for the backdrop, creating a surreal effect.
I predict more Helen Hayes nominees for Olney's Chorus Line:

Outstanding Resident Musical

Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production, Stephen Nachamie
Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical

What: A Chorus Line

When: Evening performances with weekend matinees and some Wednesday matinees now through September 8

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets from $31. Click here.

Language: Street talk. The show is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Treats: May be taken to seats, including beer, wine, and other beverages which are sold on-site

Free parking: Plenty of it and just steps from the entrance

For more information: 301-924-3400

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