'Chorus Line' actress a survivor on stage and in real life, too

November 26, 1991|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

FOR WANDA Richert-Preston, playing the character of Cassie in the musical "A Chorus Line" is always one joyful, singular sensation.

Although she created the lead role of Peggy Sawyer in the original Broadway production of "42nd Street" (for which she won a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award), the singer/dancer considers "A Chorus Line" her favorite show.

The shapely, platinum blond has been performing the role of the fallen star intermittently for the past five years. "Cassie is the part of a lifetime," she says. "The singing and the acting are from the soul."

The longest running production in Broadway history, "A Chorus Line" finally lowered the curtain on April 28, 1990. Now a revival of the musical classic (with music by Marvin Hamlisch) is touring the nation and is currently at the Lyric Opera House through Dec. 8.

Conceived and directed by Michael Bennett, the show won 10 Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. Staged in the form of an audition process for an upcoming Broadway musical, 24 dancers try out for the chorus line. One by one they are eliminated by the choreographer-director until only eight performers remain.

Cassie, the director's ex-girlfriend, is one of the survivors. Once a shining light on the Great White Way, she has fallen on hard times and is desperate for a comeback even in the chorus.

"She is very vulnerable, warm and giving," said Richert-Preston in a phone conversation from Jackson, Miss., where the show was playing recently. "She finally realizes that all that is important is doing what she loves doing. Being a star doesn't matter.

"And that is the way I feel," she added.

The show features such memorable songs as "One Singular Sensation" and "What I Did For Love." Richert-Preston's big dance and song scene is the dramatically stirring "The Music and the Mirror" number.

But the ardors of performing elaborate stage sequences are not unfamiliar to the artist, who earned her Equity card in a production of "Cabaret" at age 15. She has been working professionally since age 14 and never felt a need to enroll in college.

"I got on the job training," she said. "I didn't need a degree for what I was doing. I started dancing when I was 5 in my hometown, Chicago. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life."

Television viewers have seen the actress on such soaps as "The Doctors" and "One Life to Live." She has made guest appearances on "Law and Order," "The Bob Hope Special at West Point" and 'The 1985 Tony Awards."

The actress stayed with the "42nd Street" production two and a half years.

After "42nd Street" she replaced Anita Morris in the Broadway company of the musical "Nine." "I played Carla, the black-laced part you could never show on TV," she said laughing.

She then joined the Broadway company of "A Chorus Line" in the lead role of Cassie. "Michael Bennett took me under his wing," said Richert-Preston. "He had many facets to his personality. He was an extremely nice and caring and giving person. He also had a dark side.

She recalled, "I never got his wrath too much."

"A Chorus Line" plays at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday evenings. Matinees are 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from $20-$42.50. There is no show Thanksgiving Day. For further ticket information and reservations, call 625-1400.

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