The North Carolina Theatre has magic to do in 2014-15. Last night, it kicked off its challenging 31st season with simply dazzling presentation of A Chorus Line, directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton. Hamilton, who inspired the character of Valerie Clark and created that role in the 1976 debut of A Chorus Line in London’s West End and also danced the role on Broadway, has used Michael Bennett’s original direction and choreography from the 1975 Broadway and 1976 West productions as a springboard for her own spectacular staging of this bittersweet tribute to the chorus boys and girls in “The Line,” who dwell in anonymity even as they sometimes quite literally “break a leg” to make the “Stars” in the West End and Broadway firmaments twinkle even brighter.
The audition angst and private anguish and insecurities of aspiring members of the chorus of an (unnamed) upcoming Broadway show, circa 1975, provides a showcase for the crowd-pleasing characterizations by the members of the North Carolina Theatre cast, who make the most of their moments in the spotlight. From the opening notes of “I Hope I Get It” to the final eye-popping reprise of “One (Singular Sensation),” the show’s 25 guest stars and local cast members pour their hearts and souls into their characters.
Jessica Lee Goldyn (“The Music and the Mirror”) is desperation personified as Cassie Ferguson, the down-on-her-luck dancer who long ago stepped out of the chorus to become a featured performer, but hasn’t worked in two years and is willing to swallow her pride and try to rejoin the chorus line in a production directed and choreographed by her former boyfriend Zach (Nathaniel Shaw), whose penchant for probing questions during the audition process puts her at risk of public humiliation. Goldyn and Shaw, who is assistant choreographer on the Broadway production and National Tour of Once, skillfully navigate the emotional rapids of their rocky former romance, which foundered when Zach put his career ambitions to be a Broadway director and choreographer ahead of his relationship with Cassie.
Also earning enthusiastic applause are passionate performances by Hilary Michael Thompson as haughty sexpot Colorado Springs, CO dancer Sheila Bryant; Nick Varricchio as plucky Trenton, NJ dancer Mike Costa (born Michael Costafalone), who may lack skill but never lacks the conviction that “I Can Do That”; Sidney Dupont as irrepressible Herculaneum, MO dancing dynamo Richie Walters; North Carolina Theatre Conservatory director of dance Tito Hernandez as Zach’s long-suffering assistant Larry; and Alexandra Fassler as the Bronx, NY’s own Diana Morales, whose lead vocals on “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love” are highlights of the show.
Other delights of this production include the ahe amusing antics of Tiffany Chalothorn as short but feisty 4’10” dancer Connie Wong from New York City’s Chinatown; Jonathan Stahl as New York City dancer and drama queen Gregory Gardner (born Sidney Beckenstein); Logan Keslar as snide upstate New York dancer Bob Mills III (“To commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”); and Brandon Rubendall and Ashley Adamek as the Bronx, NY couple of Al and Kristine DeLuca. Their comic caterwauling while Al explains why Kristine can’t “Sing!” is hilarious.
Rachel Schur is a real scene stealer with her sassy “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” number as the new-and-(surgically)-improved version of Arlington, VT dancer Valerie Clark (nee Margaret Mary Houlihan) ; but it is Alexander Cruz as the emotionally traumatized Puerto Rican dancer Paul San Marco (born Ephrain Ramirez) from from New York City’s Spanish Harlem whose performance tugs strongest at the audience heartstrings. In a show in which the characters try to draw a smiley face on their most embarrassing and painful past experiences, Cruz’s makes an indelible impression as the hapless Paul San Marco.
NCT, which previously staged A Chorus Line in 1987, 1994, and 2002, puts even more snap, crackle, and pop into the current production, thanks to dynamic direction and kinetic choregraphy by Mitzi Hamilton and invigorating accompaniment by musical director and conductor Edward G. Robinson. Technical director Bill Yates, Jr., scenic designer James Dardenne, lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, and sound designers Eric Alexander Collins and Brian L. Hunt also do yoeman’s work; and the costumes from Los Angeles-based JMR Costume Designs — originally designed by Theoni V. Aldridge for the show’s 1975 Broadway debut and 2006 Broadway revival — are a feast for the eye.
Last night, the opening-night performance of NCT’s production of A Chorus Line concluded with a truly grand grand finale that rocketed the first-nighters to their feet for a hearty and well-deserved standing ovation. This sizzling show adds to the regional theater’s reputaion as the Triangle’s premier producer of revivals of Broadway musicals; and whets local theatergoers appetite for its for the company’s exciting 2015 presentations: Nice Work If You Can Get It (Jan. 20-25 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium); Billy Elliot (Feb. 10-15 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium), starring Ira David Wood III and Beth Leavel; Peter and the Starcatcher (March 10-15 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium), Next to Normal (May 1-3 and 5-10 in A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater), starring Lauren Kennedy; and The Buddy Holly Story (July 21-26 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium). Nice Work If You Can Get It and Peter and the Starcatcher will be co-presented with Raleigh-based Broadway Series South.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 15th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Karasarides: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Reviews-North-Carolina-Theatres-A-CHORUS-LINE-20141015 and Oct. 15th “Photo Flash” by the BWW News Desk: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/Photo-Flash-First-Look-at-Mitzi-Hamilton-Helmed-A-CHORUS-LINE-at-North-Carolina-Theatre-20141015; Oct. 15th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/10/15/4235757/review-a-chorus-line-palpably.html; Oct. 13th Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with director Mitzi Hamilton, conducted by Valonda Calloway and Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”: http://www.wncn.com/story/26772441/a-chorus-line-in-raleigh; Sept. 26th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview: http://www.wral.com/nc-theatre-s-a-chorus-line-kicks-off-rehearsals-for-october-production/14013260/ and Aug. 21st preview: http://www.wral.com/original-london-cast-member-mitzi-hamilton-to-direct-and-choreograph-nc-theatre-s-production-of-a-chorus-line/13913275/; and Aug. 27th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com preview by the BWW News Desk: http://www.broadwayworld.com/new-jersey/article/Original-A-CHORUS-LINE-Star-Mitzi-Hamilton-Directs-and-Choreographs-at-Surflight-Theatre-Now-thru-914-20140827.
The North Carolina Theatre presents A CHORUS LINE at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15-17 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $37.32-$122.24 (including fees).
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/803630.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/group-sales.
2014-15 SEASON: http://www.nctheatre.com/2015-shows.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 2 p.m. Saturday, October 18th, performance.
A Chorus Line (1975 Off-Broadway, 1975 Broadway, and 1976 West End musical): http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=1058 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Chorus_Line (Wikipedia).
Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.centertheatregroup.org/ (Center Theatre Group of Los Angles, CA).
Marvin Hamlisch (music, 1944-2012): http://marvinhamlisch.us/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=11816 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvin_Hamlisch (Wikipedia).
Edward Kleban (lyrics, 1939-87): http://www.rnh.com/bio/55/Kleban-Edward (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=13009 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Kleban (Wikipedia).
James Kirkwood, Jr. (book, 1924-89): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6603 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Kirkwood,_Jr. (Wikipedia).
Nicholas Dante (book, 1941-91): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7890 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Dante (Wikipedia).
Mitzi Hamilton (NCT guest director): http://www.broadwayworld.com/people/Mitzi-Hamilton/ (BroadwayWorld.com bio) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=81367 (Internet Broadway Database).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing email@example.com and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)