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A Chorus Line

Why shouldn't you be the best you could be? — Zach to Cassie
Trevor Michael Schmidt (Photo by Christopher Mueller)
Signature Theatre has a reputation that goes far beyond its Arlington, Virginia home for taking "classic" or "forgotten" musicals and making them new again. That's certainly true of their current show, A Chorus Line. The iconic American musical that has been putting the life stories and exceptional talents of Broadway dancers front and center since 1975. Its themes and especially the song "Am I My Resume" have meaning that resonates a lot further than the chorus.

Maybe its apocryphal but Michael Bennett, who conceived, directed and choreographed the original, has been quoted as having said while on his deathbed, "nothing runs for ever." (The line is in the current revival.) But that's not true: as long as there are theaters doing musicals, A Chorus Line will keep coming back because it is so good.

With permission from the Bennett estate, Signature has made some changes to the staging and choreography. However, Director Matthew Gardiner and Choreographer Denis Jones, have made those additions/deletions so smoothly they do not cause comment or distraction — even to someone who has seen this show five times. Although the dancing calls for uniformity which this ensemble delivers faultlessly, it is pleasing to see on stage so many different body types ranging from stocky (but taut) to very thin. That's a relatively new reality in all forms of dance.

A Chorus Line is, of course, the quintessential ensemble piece with notable solos. Trevor Michael Schmidt as Mike who has the good fortune to perform "I Can Do That," got the evening off to a great start. He's athletic, acrobatic, fast, nimble and a terrific actor. A truly memorable performance. Maria Rizzo, who is well known and liked by Signature audiences, takes on the role of Sheila with appropriate attitude, sarcasm and grit. She too is a standout. The most emotional moments come from Jeff Gorti's extremely vulnerable Paul. With hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched and a purposefully awkward stance, Paul's story leads to more than a few tears in the audience. This guy can act.

There is plenty of humor in several vignettes. Samantha Marisol Gershman's Diana makes the most of "Nothing." However, the fact that she does not play the role with a Nyorican accent is puzzling. Ben Gunderson's loose-limbed and fairly nonchalant Bobby delivers the goods, especially in "And." Plus, he has a charming comic touch.

Where differences from other productions come to the fore is in the relationship between Zach, the choreographer, and Cassie, his former lover and prima dancer. This Zach (Matthew Risch) is strict but neither harsh nor cruel as has been the case with other Zach's. At times, he's even somewhat mellow. However, his showdown with Cassie (Emily Tyra) lacks steam. It's hard to imagine why Zach thinks she's too good for the chorus. Tyra/Cassie's big solo, "The Music and the Mirror," has no pizzazz.

As always at Signature, the production values are excellent, particularly Adam Honoré's inspired lighting. John Kalbfleisch's 10-person orchestra performed admirably.

The energy expended at such a high level for two hours culminating in the magnificent final number, "One," is mind-boggling. How do they do it? Listen to their resumes, listen to their life stories, they sing about the gift of being able to dance, that they cannot regret "what they do for love" and that "gift that was theirs to borrow." That's how and that's why Signature's A Chorus Line is a gift to borrow.

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A Chorus Line
Conceived, originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Originally co-choreographed by Bob Avian
Music Direction by Jon Klabfleisch
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Cast: Joshua Buscher (Larry/Dance Captain); Michelle E. Carter (Tricia); Zeke Edmonds (Roy); Adena Ershow (Val); Samantha Marisol Gershman (Diana); Jeff Gorti (Paul); Ben Gunderson (Bobby); Lawrence Hailes (Butch); Vincent Kempski (Al); Julia Klavans (Vicki); Elise Kowalick (Kristine); Lina Lee (Connie); Bryan Charles Moore (Don); Corinne Munsch (Judy); Zachary Norton (Greg); Kayla Pecchioni (Maggie); Daniel Powers (Frank); Matthew Risch (Zach); Maria Rizzo (Sheila); MK Sagastume (Lois); Trevor Michael Schmidt (Mike); Emily Tyra (Cassie); Jillian Wessel (Bebe); Daxx Jayroe Wieser (Mark); Phil Young (Richie).
Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood
Costume Design by Sarah Cubbage
Lighting Design by Adam Honore
Running time: 2 hours, no intermission (although opening night, the show ran 15 minutes long.)
Signature Theatre;
Performances October 29, 2019 through January 5, 2020.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at November 5, 2019 performance.

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