REVIEW: Oakland University’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Hits the Mark with Hope, Heart, and High Kicks

When I first learned the next production from the Oakland University Department of Music, Theatre and Dance would be A Chorus Line, my interest was piqued. Since the Varner Studio Theatre is such an intimate setting, I was curious to see how they were going to pull off such an ambitious piece of American musical theatre. The answer? Sensationally!

Upon entering the Theatre, you can’t help but be struck by the massive size of the stage. The usual side stage seating is gone, which creates a powerfully intimate feel in the space. In fact, it reminded me of going to see a 3-D or IMAX movie—where you are so close to the action that you become instantly immersed with what is happening in front of you.

Photo credit: JLBoone Photography

Before reality TV shows were everywhere, there was A Chorus Line, which opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway July 25, 1975. With music by late famed composer Marvin Hamlisch and choreography by Michael Bennett, the show offers an unfiltered behind-the-scenes look into the personalities of 17 dancers and one weary director/choreographer as they navigate the perils of a Broadway audition. Along the way, we’re given insight into what led each dancer to the stage, and it becomes clear they carry more than just their dance bags with them daily. Throughout the nearly two-hour show, the actors take the audience on a moving journey of acceptance and validation. In some way, dance provides a needed escape— a type of therapy—from the physical and emotional weight each dancer carries. And this is what is great about OU’s productions—they never play it safe. They push the students in their program in order to draw out the best possible performances by giving them opportunities to be in productions like A Chorus Line. And in doing so, the audience is treated to exceptional entertainment. As I mentioned in my review of The Scarlet Pimpernel at the beginning of the season, we are privileged to have access to high-caliber talent and I am confident we will see many of these actors graduate to successful careers on stage and screen. My advice to you would be, see them now while you can.

Photo: David Bashaw as Zach and Emily Hadick as Cassie.
Photo by JLBoone Photography

In the program notes, Stage Director David Gram said when working with such a recognizable piece of theatre like A Chorus Line one of the questions we must ask ourselves, why do this play now? In my opinion it’s because the material this show presents is still very relevant to the tough questions each of us are faced with: Am I good enough? If someone knows the true me, will they still love and accept me? And if everything I have worked so hard for is gone tomorrow, was it all worth it? If we’re honest, we can find pieces of ourselves in each of the characters. Some of us are like Sheila (played by AlissaBeth Morton), a little brassy and sophisticated, but also a little disheartened and jaded at life’s circumstances. Or Cassie (played by Emily Hadick) who is starting over and “putting herself on the line” for another chance. The passion Hadick brings to this role, along with the superbly danced solo during “The Mirror and The Music” has you rooting that she gets the second chance she so desperately needs. Then there’s Paul (played by Joey Fontana). Slightly insecure about who he is and where he fits in, but a great dancer. Without dance, you get the sense he would have no purpose and Fontana conveys the nuances of Paul’s inner torture beautifully. Throughout the play, the characters are put through the paces emotionally and physically. And just when you think they’ve given every last ounce, Zach (played by David Bashaw) the director and choreographer, stops everyone in their tracks when he asks, “What do you do when you can’t dance anymore?” I believe we’ve all asked that question in some form or another. What happens when we can’t do the one thing that brings us joy or gives our life meaning? The answer was probably my favorite part of the play. Diana (played by Kristin Rebera*) speaks for not only the company, but for all of us as well. She isn’t as polished as some of the other dancers in appearance or speech, but there’s no denying she wants to be there and loves to dance. So, when she steps forward to sing “What I Did For Love,” I got chills:

Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can’t regret
What I did for love, what I did for love

Judy (Alaina Whidby) and Richie (Brandon Santana) look on as Val (Olivia Ursu) sings about her ‘assets.’
Photo credit: JLBoone Photography

We’re not guaranteed much in this life, but it’s better to take the chance then spend your life wondering ‘what if.’ And while A Chorus Line delivers many insightful moments, it’s not without lighthearted bits, too. In particular, I think the audience will get a kick out of attention-seeking Val’s (played by Olivia Ursu) cheeky solo during “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.”

Normally, I attend an evening performance, but chose the 10 a.m. show on Friday during opening weekend. It was filled will mostly seniors and students, which serves as another reminder of what an asset this program is to the community. In addition to the thought-provoking nature of the show, it contains some mature subject matter, so use discretion with younger children. Tickets are going fast, so do yourself a favor and go, but keep in mind the show is performed without intermission.

Performance Schedule:
Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 30, 2017 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, March 31, 2017 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.    

OU’s Varner Studio Theatre is located at 371 Varner Drive. Apple smart phone users can find the location by entering Varner Hall into their Maps app. Campus maps are available at Oakland.edu/map. Ample free parking will be available in lots 24 and 26.

Tickets may be purchased online without service fees at StarTickets.com or by phone at (800) 585-3737. They can also be purchased at the Varner Box Office on OU’s campus. Tickets ordered online or by phone can be picked up at the box office one hour before the performance begins.

Directions and complete ticket information are available at www.Oakland.edu/mtd/tickets.

For more information about Oakland University Music, Theatre and Dance programs and performances, call (248) 370-2030 or visit Oakland.edu/mtd.

*The role of Diana is played by Kristin Rebera at the following performances: March 26, 29, 31, and April 1 (8 p.m.). Gabrielle Minchella will portray Diana on March 30 (8 p.m.), April 1, and April 2 (2 p.m.).

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About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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