A Chorus Line Closes Season

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Lexi Windsor (Shelia), Natascia Diaz (Cassie), Felipe Gonzalez Quillin (Paul)
Natascia Diaz (Cassie)
Natascia Diaz (Cassie) and Robert Montano (Zach)
Robert Montano (Zach), Natascia Diaz (Cassie), Lexi Windsor (Shelia), Felipe Gonzalez Quillin (Paul)

By Clif’ Warren

“A (Sensational!) Chorus Line” closed out the 2011 Summer Season for Lyric Theatre that featured a series of four wide-ranging musicals in historical perspective and technique, and included a gritty, poignant, and architecturally awesome rendition of the Dickens-based story of “Oliver,” a sparky, jubilant, and racially cause-oriented “Hairspray,” and a majestic, near operatic pageant and paean, “Ragtime,” recounting early 20th century views of family and celebrity life.

For “Chorus Line,” Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood crafted the book, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, the music and lyrics, and Michael Bennett, the original director and choreographer, came up with the idea of creating a tribute to Broadway’s dancing “gypsies,” who make a living moving from show to show. Tape recordings of their personal observations were used as a basis for the story.

The local direction and choreography realized by David Marquez, based on the original show, brought to the “Chorus Line” all its charms in tact, and the orchestra, under the guidance of David Andrews Rogers, graced the score with beauty and energy.

The Lyric cast starred Natascia Diaz as the former Broadway headliner down on her luck, Cassie, and Robert Montano as Zach, the director of a show, who is selecting and directing the cast. Both principals were brought in from the East, as was the director, and they made every word and note produce magic. They well deserved the thunderous applause and recognition of the highly responsive audience.

Cassie’s in Metro productions come and go, but none has matched the perfection of Natascia Diaz’s performance in the role. Her vocal supremacy on “The Music in the Mirror” ranks with that of Donna McKechnie, the original Broadway lead, and her dance turn was superbly executed.

Local Metro professionals performed outstandingly, too, especially Lexi Windsor as edgy Sheila, road weary and nonchalant; Chris Castleberry, recent choreographer for the celebrated “Passing Strange” at the Pollard, registered well as the amusingly sarcastic Greg; multi-talented international performer, Hui Cha Poos, gleefully repeated the role of Connie that she played in the 1995 Lyric version; and Matthew Sipress, who wears several hats well at Lyric, appeared in superior dance form as Larry, suggesting why he was born.

That said, it does not deny the exceptional talents of any other member of the superb cast that also featured Ryan Fitzgerald as Bobby, Sasha Hutchings as Diana, Eloise Kropp as Val, Felipe Gonzalez Quillin as Paul, and Christopher Rice as Mike, all good storytellers and precise in step and tune.

“A Chorus Line” is all about heart and all the devotion and intensity that must go with such a career choice, and the way the show was put together by its creators brought a whole new depth and breadth to how audiences feel about performers, as well as a seminal direction for structuring stage shows: Think “Spelling Bee.”

Songs from “Chorus Line,” like the lilting “At the Ballet,” the touching “What I Did For Love,” and the vibrant “One” are now standards in the American songbook.

Nearly everyone involved in any way with musical theatre has a special connection with “Chorus Line.” The Artistic Director of Lyric, Michael Baron, saw “A Chorus Line” as his first Broadway production at age 10 and decided right away he wanted to be in show business. Several in the OKC production, like Lexi Windsor, who has exhibited enormous performing ability recently in “The Thirty-nine Steps” and “Boeing, Boeing!,” trace career inspiration back to the show. Lexi first essayed the role of Val, chose musical theatre as a college major, and then continued post-graduate studies in New York.

All members of the cast wrote notes about what the show meant to them, and the resonance came through: The emotion built moment by moment vibrantly as the dancers moved from workaday dance togs up to the glitz and glamour of the gold top hats and tuxes reflected in the mirrored high kicks of the huge ending number “One.”

My own connection to the show resonates to the summer of 1975 when I took my daughter, who was then studying dance, to see it, and she and I were quite moved by the production. Fortunately, just a few months after seeing “Chorus Line,” via a grant, I was able to bring in from New York and the show the Co-author Jim Kirkwood (“There Must Be A Pony” and “P. S. Your Cat Is Dead”) to speak to the University of Central Oklahoma community on the topic of the creation of “Chorus Line” and its immediate impact. Over the following summer it won nine Tony Awards.

True to our Oklahoma weather, Jim arrived to experience a real Oklahoma blizzard. Jim was staying at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel. Quite a bit of maneuvering in the snow was required to transport Jim back and forth to the campus in Edmond and later to the airport.

At the time, the Lincoln Plaza complex included the Lincoln Plaza Dinner Theatre, a posh place where movie stars, the likes of Ginger Rogers, Van Johnson, and Kaye Ballard, tried out their solo star musical reviews before moving them on—a wonderful brief piece of Oklahoma history. But that’s another story.

This fall the Lyric schedule at their Plaza Theatre features “Altar Boyz,” the ninth longest running Off-Broadway musical. The show is about an ersatz Christian boy band from Ohio and satirizes the popular Christian-themed music now so central to American culture. The huge new Christmas musical sponsored by Devon Energy—Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” follows it in December.

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