A CHORUS LINE may easily be the most demanding musical ever written. It’s an emotional gauntlet and physical marathon for the cast. The ensemble has to be incredible to do the material justice and to make it truly resonate with a modern audience. After seeing a few uneven productions of the show, including the recent Broadway revival, I often find myself walking into new productions singing to myself, “God, I hope they get it.”
Thankfully the current production at The Palace Theatre in Georgetown does. Their CHORUS LINE is a thrilling, gripping, highly entertaining masterpiece and a fitting tribute to the late Michael Bennett and Marvin Hamlisch.
The crowning achievement of Director/Choreographer Michael Bennett’s career, A CHORUS LINE is less of a musical and more of a drama with music in which we see an unconventional audition unfold in real time. The concept of dancers baring their souls to a snotty jack-ass director was shocking back in 1975. It easily could be less-shocking now in the Reality TV era, but in the hands of Director Danny Herman and Choreographer Rocker Verastique, the material still seems fresh and original. While aided by their personal attachments to the show (Danny acted in the Original Broadway company for a decade, and the pair has directed/choreographed over a dozen productions during their careers), they create a production that is on one hand a recreation of the 1975 Broadway version and on the other hand entirely new. The pair focuses on staying true to the intent of the material, recreating Bennett’s Tony Award-winning choreography, but also makes the bold decisions of showcasing an entirely un-miked cast who have all clearly been instructed to make some mistakes here and there to add to the authenticity. The cast often looks like nervous performers who just got the choreography moments before and are now desperately trying to dance it to perfection in hopes to win the favor of the director. The result is rough around The Edges and not entirely polished like the glitzy Broadway revival of 2006, but it is astonishingly beautiful, moving, and effective.
It is those rough-edged performances that make this CHORUS LINE one to remember. Have I heard the show sung better? Yes. Have I seen it danced better? Yes. Have I ever seen a cast this real? Not on your life. Ismael Soto III plays Bobby as the most likeable and balanced of the bunch. He seems like a wise old soul, a smart choice by Soto that prevents his character from being lost in the shuffle. William Diamond gives his character of Greg an amusing “I’m better than this” attitude as he looks down his nose at his counterparts.
With Kristine, Shelby Schneider gives a fantastic comic turn with “Sing!” and plays off of Brian Losoya’s Al wonderfully. Jennifer Butler’s Judy is delightfully ditzy and frazzled (what’s her number, again?). As Maggie, Mary Katherine Kinney gets to showcase her beautiful soprano voice and subtle vulnerability during “At the Ballet,” and as DiAna Morales, Samantha Ricker Watson gives some simple but effective renditions of “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love.” She has a gorgeous voice but isn’t overly showy with it, and her Morales isn’t nearly as tough or street-wise as I’ve seen her played; she’s a real person rather than a flat stereotype.
Kimberly Wilson gives a crowd-pleasing turn as Val. She uses her boobalicious body and fabulous comedic timing with gusto in “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” Equally sexy, sassy, and spunky is Sherrie Bristoll as Sheila, the veteran vixen.
But the most fascinating and note-worthy performances of the evening come from Brice Andrew Rafferty as Mike, Isaac Arrieta as Paul, Andrew Brett as Zach, and Sarah Reynolds-Shaw as Cassie. With Mike, Brice Andrew Rafferty has the daunting task of setting the tone of the show with the first solo number. Mr. Rafferty does so with ease, an astonishing achievement for a 15-year-old. With Paul, Isaac Arrieta gives a powerful, poignant performance with the most emotionally demanding role in the piece. His Paul is a tear-jerker, but he’s constantly authentic and never sappy. He never wants or asks for your pity, and that’s exactly why he gets it. As Zach, the brooding director, Andrew Brett shows great intensity in several moments but balances it with sweetness and heart in others. It’s hard to make the good guy/bad guy character of Zach work, but Brett’s portrayal is genuine, believable, and touching. And Sarah Reynolds-Shaw is an absolute revelation as Cassie. She sings the role better than Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie) and dances it better than Nikki Snelson (the recent tour’s Cassie). Sarah hits all of the right acting notes as the girl who wants and needs the part and as the director’s ex flame. She feels she deserves the job but knows she needs to prove it more than anyone else on the line. Her top-notch performance is astonishing considering that in real life, Ms. Shaw does not consider herself a dancer. Sarah, if you’re reading this, and I hope you are, you’re a dancer now, and you’ve got star quality.