Free Lance-Star: Get in line for Riverside's latest musical treat: 'A Chorus Line'

By JESSE SCOTT FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Periodically we all have an audition.

These auditions can come in the form of a job interview, passing an important test or meeting all of your spouse’s BFFs. It can be grueling.

Well, performers, dancers and actors go through auditions all the time. And there’s an iconic musical coming to town focused on that process as well as the unique folks that typically comprise it.

The time-tested and iconic Michael Bennett production “A Chorus Line,” with music by Marvin Hamlisch, owns the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts stage through Sept. 16.

“For anyone interested in theater, you get a taste of what the process is like,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside. “Whether in the mid-1970s—when ‘A Chorus Line’ debuted—or coming in to 2020, that process is still the same for so many performers. It can be grueling and lead to a very exposed feeling. One thing about this show though, is that it’s not just a reflection of people in theater ... it’s a reflection on everyone and so many can relate.”

Where “Hamilton” is the darling of today, “A Chorus Line” was the darling of 1975 and well beyond. After making its Broadway debut at the Shubert Theatre, it went on a 6,000-plus performance stretch, making it the seventh- longest running Broadway show in history. The show took home the Tony Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976.

So, what makes it so darn spectacular? Well, the story and its people, for starters. The plot zooms in on a Broadway production audition, with 17 performers vying for final spots in a chorus line. Characters range from those with deep-rooted insecurities to those in the audition with a past together, such as the case with director Zach and veteran dancer Cassie.

“You get so involved in their lives and you really get to know them by the end of it all,” said A’Hearn. “When it comes down to the final cut, you are almost as let down as those who don’t make it.”

For “A Chorus Line,” the Riverside space mimics a true old Broadway theater, clad with brick walls, brick towers and mirrors, culminating in an art deco-ish vibe. The show itself pays deep respect to Bennett’s original production, boasting much of his original choreography.

“It was really important for us to give the audience what they love and remember from the show, balanced with the occasional new spin,” said co-director and co-choreographer Justin Amellio. “Some of the dream sequences have been made a bit new, but we did really want to honor Bennett’s vision.”

“A Chorus Line” marks Amellio’s first production at Riverside since 2012’s “Anything Goes.” For this production, he’s working alongside Riverside mainstay and co-director/co-choreographer Penny Ayn Maas.

Also making her first return to Riverside since 2012 is Nicole Oberlietner, starring in the role of Cassie. Riverside regulars may remember her from “Cabaret” back in the day.

“With this show, this role, and having the opportunity to be here again, I just couldn’t resist,” said Oberlietner. “I started in this business as a dancer and, after multiple knee injuries, started to sing and act along with this dancing. I’m glad I did, as this is definitely one of the shows and roles where ‘the triple threat’ is so important.”

Countering Cassie in a fellow lead role is director Zach, played by J. Clayton Winters.

“I had certainly heard about [Winters] before the show and was so excited and honestly a little nervous,” said Oberlietner. “It is absolutely a pleasure to work with him and he just brings out the best in you.”

In a world that thrives off a good ole battle and a hearty back story, “A Chorus Line” continues to pull at the heartstrings.

“It’s a show that’s different than anything we’ve ever done before,” said A’Hearn. “To see people go through this process competition ... you’ll be on the edge of your seat.”

Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native.