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Review: ‘A Chorus Line,’ lavishly produced at Moonlight, still impresses after 46 years

The cast of Moonlight Stage Productions' "A Chorus Line."
(Ken Jacques)

Big cast and orchestra pay off in expansive outdoor production of 1975 musical

“A Chorus Line” may be nearing the half-century mark, but judging by the luxurious new outdoor production of the 1975 musical that opened Wednesday, Aug. 18 at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre, it still packs the power to entertain.

Coming out of the pandemic, the dance-heavy musical could have been a risk for Moonlight Stage Productions to stage. Its profanity-laced, PG-13 script isn’t for families, and it has a 26-member cast, 17-member orchestra and some of the best rented scenery in the country. But the production directed and choreographed by Hector Guerrero is a sparkling gem that lovingly and faithfully re-creates the shows original steps, while bringing a contemporary naturalism to its characters. And, lucky for the Moonlight, ticket sales are brisk.

Jennifer Knox, left, and Tyler Matthew Burk in "A Chorus Line" at Moonlight Amphitheatre.
Jennifer Knox as Cassie, left, and Tyler Matthew Burk as Zach in “A Chorus Line” at Moonlight Amphitheatre.
(Adriana Zuniga)

Based on recorded interviews show creator-choreographer Michael Bennett conducted with real Broadway dancers in 1974, the Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning “A Chorus Line” takes place during the final day of auditions for chorus dancer roles in a new musical. While the authoritarian director Zach gradually whittles down the hopefuls from 24 to 17 to eight, he asks questions about their lives, and they take turns telling their stories via inner and outer monologues, songs and dance.

That might sound like a dull setup, but the catchy and cleverly worded songs by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban are beautifully interwoven with the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. And thanks to the cast’s impeccable dancing and beautiful vocal harmonies, which were coached by conductor and music director Randi Rudolph, the show flow seamlessly through its two hours, 20 minutes, including intermission.

Guerrero and Rudolph collaborated early last year on a production of “A Chorus Line” at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido, and Guerrero rehired about half of that cast for the Moonlight show. These seasoned performers are among the highlights of the show at Moonlight, which is far superior, because it has a live orchestra versus the Welk’s pre-recorded score. The Moonlight stage is also much wider and deeper, and the highly detailed, multi-cued lighting design by Jennifer Edwards is more impressive.

Emma Nossal, Natalie Nucci and Lacey Beegun in Moonlight Stage Productions' "A Chorus Line."
Emma Nossal, Natalie Nucci and Lacey Beegun sing “At the Ballet” in Moonlight Stage Productions’ “A Chorus Line.”
(Ken Jacques)

Among the cast’s standouts are the hilarious Natalie Nucci as the aging and wisecracking dancer Sheila; Holly Echsner as Val, the resourceful dancer who bought breast implants to boost her luck at auditions; Donny Gersonde as the flamboyant and talkative Bobby; Milan Magana, in a sensitive performance as Diana, the Puerto Rican from the Bronx who sings two of the show’s best songs, “Nothing” and “What I Did for Love”; the fierce Tyler Matthew Burk as the director Zach; Jennifer Knox as Cassie, who is Zach’s ex, an out-of-work leading lady who’s desperate for a role in the chorus; and Steven Ruvalcaba as Paul, the tender-hearted and ailing dancer who risks his health to dance. And reprising their Welk roles as the vain Greg, overconfident Mike and tone-deaf Kristine, respectively, are Trevor Rex, Jeffrey Scott Parsons and Danielle Airey, who are all excellent dancers and fun to watch.

While the musical digs deep to explore the personalities of each dancer, the irony of the story is that those who get cast must subvert their unique personalities to become part of the anonymously uniform “One” kickline at the end.

One of show’s main and still-relevant themes is how much these dancers will sacrifice for the opportunity to perform. It seems a cruel bargain until the entire cast, dressed in glittery gold tuxes and top hats, struts onstage for the finale. Even having seen “A Chorus Line” three or four times since it was last produced at Moonlight in 1992, that finale still give me butterflies.

“A Chorus Line”

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, through Sept. 4 (gates open at 6:30 p.m.)

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista

Tickets: $17-$59

Phone: (760) 724-2110

Online: moonlightstage.com

The 17 dancers vying for eight chorus roles in Moonlight Stage Productions' "A Chorus Line."
(Ken Jacques)


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