Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

A Chorus Line
Manatee Players
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of The Liar


The Cast
Photo by Janet Poelsma
Manatee Players returns to one of the iconic musicals of all times, A Chorus Line, which they also presented in 2007. A Chorus Line was a huge hit when new, running 15 years on Broadway and becoming the longest running show ever, a title it held until it was knocked off by Cats. Since then, the show has had a somewhat disappointing history; a Broadway revival, lovingly recreated by members of the original team, ran for less than two years. What was cutting edge, presenting real life stories on stage, seems a relic of the past in the age of social media, where almost everyone's personal life is on view for all to see. Even the driving score by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban seems of a period, although it still can give me goosebumps.

A Chorus Line presents a real challenge for a community theater, one only partially met by Manatee Players. Because it is all about dancers, dance is its driving force. This region recently saw another musical driven by dance, West Side Story, in an almost perfect production. Unfortunately, this production isn't able to reach the same heights. Dance is often the weakest element in community theater, but director/choreographer Thomas DeWayne Barrett has put together a cast with some very strong dancing credits. Much of the individual dancing is quite strong, but he has not been able to blend them into a real ensemble.

The cast reads like a who's who of area community theater leading performers. Kathryn Parks revisits the role of Cassie, having performed it a few years back at another theater. I think she has grown into the role, more age appropriate than she probably was before. She has terrific poise (she also models), stage presence, and a fabulous voice to deliver "The Music and the Mirror." Sarah Cassidy as Maggie, Danae DeShazer as Sheila, and Eliza Engle as Bebe make "At the Ballet" a complete showstopper, especially when Victor Mongillo's trumpet obbligato lets rip. Phillip Morehouse gives a moving reading of Paul's monologue, an emotional highlight of the piece. Keely Karalis as Val sings "Dance Ten, Looks Three" well; all she needs is just a bit more sass. Zach Sutton as Al and Rachel Nix as Kristine are both excellent; it is not easy for Al to be on pitch when his partner is not. Melissa Ingrisano as Diana Morales gets two of the show's strongest numbers, "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love," and she does a fine job delivering both. There are other fine performances by Logan Junkins as Mike, Tahj Malik as Richie, and Joseph Rebella as the Don understudy. The entire cast does great service to the musical and dramatic elements of the piece. Thomas Dewayne Barrett portrays Zach the director and demonstrates crisp ensemble dancing.

Musical direction by G. Frank Meekins is solid, the score blazing with energy as it must. The sets by Caleb Carrier is minimal, except for the revolving mirrors at the rear, based on the original production, and costumes by Becky Evans capture the haphazard attire of backstage well. Lighting by Ryan Mueller is one of the strongest elements; the dance sequences that are played in semi-darkness are some of the most effective.

A Chorus Line has proven to be almost impossible to reproduce with the same level of excitement it had during its initial Broadway run when there multiple touring versions, all with almost the same energy as the Broadway version. Manatee Players is doing a creditable job with this production, giving younger audiences a chance to see this classic musical.

Manatee Players presents A Chorus Line through January 24, 2016, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton; 941-748-0111, manateeplayers.com.

Cast:
Zach: Thomas Dewayne Barrett
Laura: Cheyenne Fauvel
Don Kerr: Jonah Wright
Maggie Winslow: Sarah Cassidy
Mike Costa: Logan Junkins
Connie MacKenzie: Leah Woodsum
Greg Gardner: Will Dixon
Cassie Ferguson: Kathryn Parks
Sheila Bryant: Danae DeShazer
Bobby Mills: Eric Gregory
Bebe Benzenheimer: Eliza Engle
Judy Turner: Alexandra Achtenberg
Richie Walters: Tahj Malik
Al DeLuca: Zach Sutton
Kristine Urich: Rachel Nix
Val Clark: Keely Karalis
Mark Anthony: Zachary Vance Hlavac
Paul San Marco: :Phillip Morehouse
Diana Morales: Melissa Ingrisano
Tricia: Eliza Lipton
Vicki: Raven Troyer
Lois: Jaimi McPeek
Roy: Adam LeBuffe
Butch: Alberto Hernandez
Tom: Jailyn Stewart
Don (understudy): Joseph Rebella

Orchestra:
Conductor/Keyboard: G. Frank Meekins
2nd Keyboard: Thomas Guthrie
Reeds: Teri Booth
Trumpet: Victor Mongillo
Percussion: John Januszewski

Directed and Choreographed by Thomas Dewayne Barrett
Stage Manager: Abe Johnson
Scenery Designed by Caleb Carrier
Lighting Designed by Ryan Mueller
Costumes Designed by Becky Evans


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