Arts & Events

Eye from the Aisle: CCMT’s A CHORUS LINE shines in Walnut Creek

By John A. McMullen II
Monday October 25, 2010 - 06:42:00 PM
L to R:  Tomas Theriot, Renee DeWeese, Mary Katherine Connard, Alex Rodriquez, Nicole Helfner, Katie Pogue
Anderson Photography
L to R: Tomas Theriot, Renee DeWeese, Mary Katherine Connard, Alex Rodriquez, Nicole Helfner, Katie Pogue

Since we treat actors like living gods, it is no surprise that we to want to be voyeurs on the backstage world of the stars. But 

A CHORUS LINE is about not the performers who get the star roles or the supporting roles; these performers are in the background, and it’s their job 

not to stand out. They dedicate their time and lives pursuing hit-and-miss success as “Broadway gypsies,” enduring crappy jobs in between, while confronting continual disappointment and tentative personal relationships due to being on the road. Dancers have a professional life-span just a tad longer than an NFL running back’s, so their hunger to make it has a clock ticking in the background. 

The best vignette of this life must be, by its record of success, the musical A CHORUS LINE, now playing at Contra Costa Musical Theatre at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. With words by Ed Kleban and music and Marvin Hamlisch, who won the 1976 Tony for best score, and choreography by the famed Michael Bennett who died young—what’s not to like about a play that garnered nine Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for drama? 

Director/Choreographer Jennifer Perry and CCMT do a bang-up job of the production. From “I Can Do That” about a young man’s Billy Elliot-like attraction to his sister’s tap shoes and moves, to “At the Ballet” about a young girl’s escape from her riven home-life, to the now standard “What I Did For Love,” the show reflects the emotional highs and lows peculiar to a life in the theatre. The musical direction by Mark Hanson is impeccable. 

The cast of 26—the director and his assistant, the 17 auditionees, and the 7 cut dancers—fill the curtained and mirrored stage with a panoply of outlandish characters who seem true-to-life for anyone who has spent time in and around the NYC theatre scene. At the beginning, the dancing was spotty with flubs and missteps, which, it becomes clear, were planned to show the arc of their progress which blossoms into a living organism of a corps dancing in utter unison.  

Where did they get all this talent? Renee DeWeese shines as Cassie, the breakout star who is looking for her old job back. Nicole Helfner charms with a good-humored “Tits and Ass” about the professional advantage that a little plastic surgery can yield. Melinda Meeng has a terrific belt combined with a naturalness of character---one of the few things occasionally lacking in many of the cast. Joel Roster, who has become an authoritative and professional actor since his bit parts at Town Hall Theatre, rules the roost as the Director. Monologues by Alex Rodriguez and Tomas Theriot let us into the disquieting world of being a gay man who wants to dance whether from the ‘burbs or Spanish Harlem. The uncanny upper register of Albert Jones, as the only black man in the ensemble who survives the first cut, astonishes the listener. My favorite moment was the trio of Katie Pogue, Emily Garcia, and Catherine Williamson, who share the sanctuary of dance “At the Ballet.” 

A CHORUS LINE was the first show to introduce a computer-controlled lighting system to the Broadway theatre, and now even small theatres have computer boards. The lighting of this production by Scott Denison is by turns spare and lavish according to mood, and when the ensemble serves up “One Singular Sensation,” they could easily be talking about the lighting and use of the equally spare and lavish sets by Kelly Tighe. 

We should note that there has been controversy from charges of plagiarism surrounding this 35 year old work since most of the situations and some dialogue came from auditions and workshops with dancers who were not credited and rewarded little from the fourth longest running Broadway play ever (#1 Phantom, #2 Cats, #3 Les Mis).  

Lesher Center for the Arts seems to be the place to go for musical theatre. This is as close to a professional show as you will get short of the Golden Gate or Orpheum. This critic has railed against the wave of the NO INTERMISSION plays, and this one runs two hours without an interval; but, truth be told, I was rapt from start to finish and didn’t really miss the opportunity to have that cherished intermission cocktail. 


A CHORUS LINE presented by Contra Costa Musical Theatre plays Oct 22-Nov 20  

at Lesher Center for the Arts, Hoffman Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek CA 

Tickets: (925) 943-7469 or 

Lyrics by Ed Kleban, music by Marvin Hamlisch, book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, direction and choreography by Jennifer Perry, musical direction by Mark Hanson, lighting by Scott Denison, set by Kelly Tighe, costumes by Michael Berg, sound by Lyle Barrere; stage management by Jason Jeffrey. 

WITH: Ben Bogen, Tony Conaty, Maggie Connard, Renee DeWeeese, Ariel Ford, Emily Garcia, Nicole Helfner, Melinda Meeng, Ryan Meulpolder, Marty Newton, Phoenix Normand, Chris Olson, Katie Pogue, Mario Rizzo, Alex Rodriguez, Joel Roster, Tomas Theriot, Catherine Williamson, and Deedra Wong. Cut Dancers: Jessica Boynton, Kelly Cooper, Lavale William, Jonathan Davis, Maddie Mendes, Gilbert Michael, Keegan Morris, Nikki Nickerson, Caitlin O'Leary, Sarah Schori, Suzie Shepard, Brian Sterling, and Alison Valentine. 

John A. McMullen II, MFA, MA, is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact Thanks to EJ Dunne for editing.