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'A Chorus Line': UCO Opens Musical Theatre Season

Last weekend the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Fine Arts and Design opened its theatre season with the Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Award winner, “A Chorus Line.” Originally presented on Broadway in 1975, this musical about the audition process for Broadway chorus artists revolutionized musical theatre.

Director Steven Smeltzer, who has toured with the show and directed it in other venues, recreated the 2006 revival for the Mitchell Hall stage. Still set in 1975 (many of the cultural references date the show), the story of 17 young professional dancers competing for 8 spots in the chorus of a Broadway show is spare and emotional at once. Smeltzer gave his cast the room to grow into these parts (mostly played by students 5 to 15 years younger than their roles).

Garrett Haley played Zach, the casting director, with strength and maturity. Zach has the task of picking the final 8 out of the 17 semi-finalists, and he takes them through a self-revelatory process that creates the show. Haley had to use only his voice over a speaker for most of the show; his voice and his moments on stage were convincing. Haley believabley produced a Zach who is several years older than the actor and with much more experience.

Al (Duncan Barrett Brown) and Kristine (Alex Altshuler) are a young married couple who have an interesting balance of skills and who really want to work together. Brown and Altshuler solidly sold the tricky duet “Sing” in the first act. Brown gave us a strong Al and Altshuler’s Kristine was delightful and sweet.

Richie (Willie Hill) brings the issue of racial balance to the fore; Hill gave Richie a beautiful blend of dance passion, commonsense, and attitude. Val (Emily Hornsby) presents the problem of what we now call “body shaming” in the classic number “Dance: 10; Looks: 3.” There were a variety of body types on stage, as is becoming more the norm, and so the song has a different resonance now. Hornsby delivered a saucy and thought-provoking commentary in her performance.

The role of Sheila, the aging vamp, was played by Bailey Maxwell, whose world-weary, “too cool for this” attitude was just enough to be believable—much more would have made us wonder why she even made the cut. Maxwell’s singing and acting were right on the mark. The role of Cassie, the former chorus dancer and Zach’s former lover, was played with strength and grace by Abbey Fitzjarrell; she executed the long and complex solo dance very well.

Matthew Herdman filled the house with quiet pathos as Paul, the young gay man who got into dancing by working drag shows. Herdman sold the role all the way through, giving us a young man trying to be both a Broadway dancer and invisible at the same time.

Phoebe Butts sang the role of Diana with gusto and great feeling. The sound system did not do her powerful voice any favors, which was evident in the song “Nothing” from the first act; nonetheless, Butts carried the strength and commonsense of the young Puerto Rican woman right through the passionate “What I Did for Love,” which is a signature element of the show.

The cast as a whole gave us a tight and well-rehearsed ensemble, working on the deceptively simple set designed by Christopher Domanski and lit by Angela Marks-Hawthorne. Mariann Searle successfully directed the young voices through Marvin Hamlisch’s powerful score, and Latricia Reichman designed the classic costume look.

Smeltzer and the cast and crew of “A Chorus Line” are to be congratulated for successfully mounting this very difficult show. Find the UCOFAD Facebook page for more information on future events.