Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

A Chorus Line
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of What to Send Up When It Goes Down

Trevor Michael Schmidt and Cast
Photo by Christopher Mueller
For musical theater lovers who grew up in the 1970s, A Chorus Line holds the iconic position that Hamilton and Rent filled for subsequent generations. It's a delight and a relief to say that Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is honoring the legacy of original director-choreographer-creator Michael Bennett with a production that tweaks Bennett's staging. On the intimate MAX stage, what could have seemed an artifact of its original era instead comes across as universal.

Director Matthew Gardiner is very concerned with delineating character in this comparatively small space. The audience sees how young and vulnerable the "boys and girls" on the line really are, especially eager first-timer Mark (Daxx Jayroe Wieser) Also evident is the camaraderie among the characters who already know each other. Choreographer Denis Jones has followed Bennett's style while intensifying it with higher kicks and more visible athleticism.

The action, as always, focuses on driven choreographer Zach (Matthew Risch, a dominating but not threatening presence) casting eight dancers for a new musical by questioning the 17 auditioners about who they are and why they dance. In larger venues, he tends to sit at the back of the house; at the MAX, he sits at a table in the midst of the audience.

The standout roles shine in unexpected ways. Diana Morales (Samantha Marisol Gershman) shows a vulnerable side underneath her assertive façade; Cassie (Emily Tyra), the one-time featured dancer wanting to start over, seems driven by her dreams as much as her desperation; and Paul (Jeff Gorti), whose wrenching monologue provides the heart of the show, hides his vulnerability as long as he can. Phil Young is a live wire as Richie, and Zeke Edmonds, in for Vincent Kempski as Al, does a notable job as a hardworking dancer and supportive husband to Kristine (Elise Kowalick).

The design team has tweaked the look of the show as well. While the minimalist esthetic remains in Jason Sherwood's scenic design, now there are two lines on the floor, both illuminated (as part of Adam Honoré's often subtle lighting design), allowing the actors to "stay in line" or perform in shadow while one or another does a solo. The mirrors are mostly an understated part of the rear wall, showcasing the performers without becoming distracting, except when they are central to the action—as in Cassie's "Music and the Mirror." Some of Sarah Cubbage's costume designs suggest the originals in different colors and fabrics; others, like Sheila's (Maria Rizzo) assertive black leotard and fishnet tights, accentuate character.

The songs by Marvin Hamlisch (music) and Edward Kleban (lyrics) are as involving and empathetic as ever, well served by the cast and the nine musicians conducted from the keyboard by Jon Kalbfleisch.

Signature Theatre
A Chorus Line
October 29th, 2019 - January 5th, 2020
Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Larry: Joshua Buscher
Tricia: Michelle E. Carter
Roy: Zeke Edmonds
Val: Adena Ershow
Diana: Samantha Marisol Gershman
Paul: Jeff Gorti
Bobby: Ben Gunderson
Butch: Lawrence Hailes
Al: Vincent Kempski
Vicki: Julia Klavans
Kristine: Elise Kowalick
Connie: Lina Lee
Don: Bryan Charles Moore
Judy: Corinne Munsch
Greg: Zachary Norton
Maggie: Kayla Pecchioni
Frank: Daniel Powers
Zach: Matthew Risch
Sheila: Maria Rizzo
Lois: MK Sagastume
Mike: Trevor Michael Schmidt
Cassie: Emily Tyra
Bebe: Jillian Wessel
Mark: Daxx Jayroe Wieser
Richie: Phil Young
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or