By Kathie Isaac-Luke

For The Union Democrat

Sierra Repertory Theatre has opened its 40th season with the celebrated and influential musical, “A Chorus Line.”

When this play first opened in 1975, it was considered a breakthrough for its imaginative interpretation of the motivations and longings of its characters. The recipient of nine Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, it was the longest running musical on Broadway until “Cats” came along.

The play takes place on a bare stage adorned only with mirrors and footlights. This allows the audience to focus entirely on the actors and their stories. Seventeen dancers are auditioning for eight spots in a chorus line. To them, getting chosen would be the culmination of their dreams.

Making the selections is the choreographer Zach, who, for most of the play, hovers as an authoritarian, disembodied voice. In a vivid performance by Russell Garrett, Zach is imperious and exacting. He not only wants to know what talents the dancers possess, he wants them to reveal their innermost fears and aspirations. Some are reluctant, and some more than eager to tell all. Many had unhappy childhoods and some felt they never fit in. But, all are determined to succeed, and all view this opportunity as a chance to change their lives.

Greg Parker is impressive as Larry, Zach’s efficient and supportive assistant.

The production really comes alive when the talented dancers begin to demonstrate their skills. Michael Hardenberg, as Mike, performs a charming and precise musical number, “I Can Do That,” as he tells how he was drawn to dancing while watching his sister’s dance lessons.

As Bobby, a confident Zachary Isen launches into a very funny monologue about his unusual childhood. As he rambles along, other dancers begin to drift into their own interior thoughts and concerns.

Timmy Hays is wonderful as the cynical Sheila, an experienced dancer whose attitude grates on Zach. Together with Kristen Daniels’ Maggie and Marissa Mayer’s Bebe, they perform the touching musical number, “At the Ballet,” where they recount how discovering ballet transported them to a magical place where everything was beautiful.

Zoe Swenson Graham and Ethan Daniel Corbett play married couple Kristine and Al, who perform the hilarious duet, “Sing,” about Kristine’s lack of vocal ability. As she describes her imperfections, he supports her by finishing her sentences.

Emily Gatesman gives an endearing performance as Judy, a quirky character who is self-conscious about her height. And Tina Nguyen shines as Connie, a Chinese-American dancer who worries her petite stature may keep her from getting chosen. Molly Dobbs is striking as Val, who resorted to plastic surgery when she thought her less-than-spectacular figure was keeping her from getting roles. Her rendering of the musical number, “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” is one of the many highlights of the show.

Another highlight is Adrianne Hampton’s poignant performance as Cassie, an actress whose career has taken a downward turn. Cassie wants only to return to her dancing, which she demonstrates beautifully in “The Music and The Mirror.” At first it is puzzling why Zach is so critical of her choices, until it is revealed that they share a history.

Michael Ivan Carrier is impressive as Paul, a talented but shy Puerto Rican dancer who is reluctant to reveal past traumas which still haunt him. Equally impressive is his friend Diana, confidently played by Sydni Abenido. With a strong and beautiful voice, Abenido leads the company in the resonant “What I Did for Love,” an anthem to living life fully and never looking back.

“A Chorus Line” is very much an ensemble piece, and the entire cast is excellent, both together and individually. Other actors who contribute depth to the play with their stories are Bryce Valle as Richie, an African-American dancer who wanted to be a teacher; Patrick J. Clarke as Don, who got his start working in a strip club; Lucas Michael Chandler as Gregory, who unabashedly recounts how he discovered he was gay; and Dalton Bertolone as Mark, the youngest dancer. Rounding out the cast are Charles Bostick, Kelli Brock, Quinn Farley, Rajah Foerstner and Josh Ranck.

As the audition continues, what was once competition and fear of rejection gives way to camaraderie as the dancers bond and learn to care about one another. When Zach announces his choices, some are heartbreaking and others surprising.

In the sparkling finale, the entire cast is reunited on stage in an organic whole for the spirited and engaging musical number, “One.” As they give their all in their glittering costumes, the audience should appreciate the determination, preparation and demands that have gone into creating such a dazzling entertainment.

Michael Bennett’s original choreography and direction was superbly restaged by Russell Garrett. Musical Director was Brian Allan Hobbs. The minimalist set was designed by Brian Dudkiewicz, and the effective lighting was provided by Christopher Van Tuyl. The costumes were a collaborative effort by Theoni V. Aldredge, Anna Owen and DC Theatricks.

“A Chorus Line” runs through March 24 at SRT’s East Sonora Theatre. For tickets or more information, go online to sierrarep.org, or call (209) 532-3120.

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