A strong cast and crew, spirited piano by music director Jackie Doxey Scott and flute by Judy Polatshek and one of Broadway's best and most beloved shows combine for wonderfully satisfying entertainment as Richey Suncoast Theatre concludes its season with A Chorus Line. The show tells the stories of those almost anonymous dancers who make the stars look good and the stage surge with energy.
The 1975 Pultizer Prize and Tony award-winning show about stage "gypsies" trying out for a place in the chorus line plays weekends through May 26 at the beautifully redone Art Deco venue.
Community theaters face a formidable challenge to come up with 20 or more dancers and dancer/singers to play those auditioning, but director/choreographers Marie Skelton and Linda Hougland came up with enough to make their production sparkle and shine.
The characters not only have to dance well, but are ordered by director Zach (Keith Surplus, whose voice resonates with authority) to come forward individually and tell something about themselves to see if they'll be a good fit with each other and possibly snare a couple of spoken lines in the show.
The near show-stopper is the beautiful Alyson Larkin as Cassie, the erstwhile chorus line dancer who took a stab at going it solo, only to discover that her real place is with the others in the background. Ms. Larkin's exciting, graceful dance moves in The Music and the Mirror are matched by her lovely voice as she sings of her love of the dance. Her scenes with Zach, her former lover, come across sweet and sad, but genuine.
But Ms. Larkin's isn't the only eye- and ear-catching performance. Suzanne Meck's Judy is adorable as she does a rapid recap of her troubled childhood with such perfect articulation (and work by sound board operators Shelly Wirgau and Zoe Brown) that the audience doesn't miss a word. Addie Mentry does the aging Sheila with just the right amount of cynicism and smirk — enough to get over the point, but still make her likable.
The most poignant scene is Andrew Aman's anguished Paul, whose story of coming out of the closet is painful and touching. Aman's careful and deliberate delivery gives this segment the punch it needs without becoming maudlin. Jesse Yarbrough and Stephanie Cooper as young newlyweds Al and Kristine provide comedy relief with Sing!, the fast-paced patter about Kristine's inability to hit the right note, as does Mike Mekus as Mark, the excruciatingly naive young Catholic boy who self-diagnoses his physical ailments to hilarious conclusions.
Amanda Castillejo is captivating as the troubled Diana, who feels Nothing; the gifted Chris Cavalier does a warm, funny and endearing Bobby, the kid who covers up his problematic relationship with his jock dad by becoming a jokester; and Ms. Mentry' Sheila, Dezzie Sala's Bebe and long-legged Jackie Sabulusky's Maggie team up to tell how the ballet saved their sanity in At the Ballet.
Sonia Carnazzo makes a cute and sprightly Connie, who laments being too short to fit in; Scott Bobier has fun as Greg, who blithely came out of the closet when it wasn't easy to do so (1975); and Harrison Mootoo's athletic Richie, who would be just as happy coaching kindergartners, is a pleasure to watch. Dominic Valentin looks at ease at the married-with-children Don, who once worked as a stripper, loves dancing, but mainly needs to make a living.
Jeffrey Oles as Mike (I Can Do That) and Allison Iskowitz as Val (Dance 10, Looks Three) have done some terrific work in the past, but would be much more effective in this production if they punched up their performances a bit — a little more sauciness from Val, in particular — and got some help from costumer Cheryl Cooper so that their physical attributes match their characters.
That said, the overall impact is pleasing and the stories mesmerizing, making for an impressive conclusion to what has been a very good year for RST.