"One singular sensation" strikes me as aptly describing Annapolis Summer Garden's A Chorus Line, which is "second best to none" of the shows I've caught over the past decade at the City Dock outdoor theater.
Winner of countless awards when it opened in 1975, A Chorus Line was conceived, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett and ran for 15 years on Broadway. The show was the most successful concept musical, telling about dancers vying to be in the chorus of a new Broadway show.
The music by Marvin Hamlisch is almost continuous, and the song lyrics by Edward Kleban are the drama. The score that tells the story includes "I Hope I Get It," "I Can Do That," "At the Ballet," "Dance, Ten; Looks, Three," "The Music and the Mirror" and the scintillating "One."
Summer Garden's production is directed by Mickey Handwerger, who creates authenticity and excitement that draw the audience into the dancers' lives. Handwerger is aided by music director Mark Hildebrand and choreographer Vincent Musgrave.
Together they create an opening number that reveals the audition process, as it goes from controlled chaos to a unified chorus line of hopefuls for "I Hope I Get It," expressing the individual dancers' anxieties. As dancers step out of line to tell their stories in words or dance, the audience gains insight into their dedication to theater and pursuit of their dreams.
In a show that celebrates the lives of gypsies (chorus dancers), the audience learns how desperately they want a job in the chorus and how much they love dance. Summer Garden's cast is filled with excellent dancers, who are talented enough to qualify for any Broadway chorus line, and in ensemble they deliver fantastic chorus singing.
Sheri Kuznicki is well cast as Cassie, the dancer who is too good for the chorus line but needs the job. At Summer Garden's season opener, Nunsense, Kuznicki surprised me with her comedic skills, and now I'm even more surprised by her skillful dancing. She delivers the tour de force dance number, "The Music and the Mirror," and is completely believable in dramatic scenes with director Zach (Eric Lund) as they confront their past romance.
Stand-out dancer Matt Stevenson as Mike recalls going to his sister's dance classes, where he realized "I Can Do That." Other skilled male dancers include Carl Wilson as Mark, Peter Crews as Bobbie, Ron Giddings as Richie, and Craig Cipollini, who lends poignancy to the role of Paul.
Another dance standout is Amanda Cimaglia as Val, who delivers a sparkling "Dance, Ten; Looks, Three," a comic song that reveals what it takes to succeed in show business. Strong singer Alicia Sweeney plays Diana, doing a terrific job on "Nothing," a song about Method acting, and later in the touching ballad, "What I Did for Love."
Andrea Elward is well cast as Sheila, doing justice to the poignant song "At the Ballet," where she sings of escaping from her sad family life into the beautiful world of ballet. Elward is joined in this song by Tonya Hogue as Bebe and by Ashley Adkins, who lights up the stage in the role of Maggie.
Filled with outstanding players who contribute to the strength of this production, the audience roots for all of them, which is exactly what Bennett intended.
The folks at Summer Garden caution audiences about the production's strong language.
"A Chorus Line" runs weekends through Sept. 3. For reservations, call 410-268-9212.