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Review: 'A Chorus Line' sizzles at Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre

By Pat Craig

Posted: 01/26/2014 02:19:01 PM PST | Updated: 4 days ago

When the original 1976 production of "A Chorus Line" closed in New York, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history. And even now, nearly 40 years later, the show's unique popularity has diminished little.

It was, and still is, a captivating show, as witnessed by the Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre production on stage at Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center through Feb. 9.

Featuring an outstanding cast led by Broadway and television performer Meredith Patterson (who plays Cassie), and Lauren Bratton-Kearns, who grew up in Pleasanton (Val), "A Chorus Line" is lovingly directed by Lois Grandi, a Broadway performer in her own right, better known in the East Bay as founder and artistic director of the former Playhouse West theater company.

Meredith Patterson in The Music and the MirrorLike many who have made a living in musical comedy, Grandi and Patterson consider "A Chorus Line" something of a musical holy grail, simply because it tells, in their own words, the stories of those who dwell in Broadway chorus lines.

In the early 1970s, as the show was being developed, the creators hosted a number of meetings with Broadway chorus dancers and encouraged them to talk about their lives, their work, their passions, their fears and what they might do if they could no longer dance.

Their stories, massaged and altered somewhat to account for the passage of time and changes in the fabric of Broadway, still make for a compelling and dramatic show, augmented by Marvin Hamlish and Edward Kleban's often pointed and emotional songs.

The main theme running through the show is former Broadway star Cassie's desire to return to the chorus of a musical, which is being directed by her old beau Zach (Damian Marhefka), who warns she is "dancing down" and has too much emotional attachment to return to a chorus line spot.

Patterson does a remarkable job creating the Cassie character, particularly in her showstopping second act number "The Music and the Mirror," where she displays her passion for dance through the sterling choreography she performs.

Before that, Bratton-Kearns' Val has a showstopper of her own in "Dance: 10; Looks: 3," her comic, but not necessarily far from accurate, commentary on how some surgical augmentation gave her, um, a leg up on the chorus competition.

And others in the cast talk about a variety of problems, from abuse to adjustment to various out-of-the-ordinary lifestyles that led them to the theater.

It is a remarkable story that rings true for anyone who has even dabbled in theater, and it makes one wonder why those who bang their heads against the stage door don't get a job that is less heartbreaking.

The answer, both simple and complex, is that they can't. It's perhaps not a satisfying answer, but an accurate one.
Contact Pat Craig at

"A Chorus Line"
By Charles Jarrett; Rossmoor News

Upbeat "Chorus Line" presented by Lois Grandi in Pleasanton

It has been almost a year since I recommended a show at the Firehouse Arts Center in downtown Pleasanton, and now, once again, I have to make an exuberant cry for residents to go again. Dedicated Broadway veteran and post Playhouse West artistic director and founder, Lois Grandi, is up to her good old familiar tricks by presenting "A Chorus Line," another fun-filled, upbeat musical with great, hummable music. This current production runs through Feb. 9.

I have seen "A Chorus Line" a number of times, including a production last year by another company, and I never seem to get tired of the delightful music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. The songs all stick in your head: "One (Singular Sensation)," "What I Did for Love," "Dance 10, Looks Three" and "The Music in the Mirror."

If you enjoy superb dancing, beautiful women and men in superbly choreographed dance routines and poignant and inspiring songs and music, then "A Chorus Line" should not be missed.

The storyline is pretty simple but the story opens a learning experience window for the audience to see what goes into the process getting a talented group of people to come together and present a cohesive, professional musical. It demonstrates clearly that no matter how good performers are, or how long they have performed on stage or in the movies, they always have to be on top of their game to prove themselves, today, tomorrow and forever.

This show provides a glimpse into the personalities of the performers and the choreographer as they describe the events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers.

In what seems to be an unusual process, Zack (Damian Marhefka), the director of a new Broadway Show production, has the remaining dancers who have survived his first cut line up on the bare stage and calls each dancer out. He is looking for a strong dancing chorus of four boys and four girls. He wants to learn more about them, and asks the dancers to introduce themselves. With reluctance, the dancers reveal their pasts.

More than simply showcasing the talented dancers who all desperately need this job ("I Hope I Get It") the story is about a director who wants his cast to consist of something more important than just a group of talented dancers who can follow his instructions and mount a successful show. He wants people who can relate to each other, who can bond and form an alliance of will and spirit, who can care about each other. In order to get to that goal, the director, Zack is professional to the point and coldly analytical in his judgment process.

Cassie (Meredith Patterson) is a veteran dancer who has had notable success in the past as a soloist. It becomes quickly apparent that Zack and Cassie had a previous relationship and that he had previously cast her in a featured part. Patterson is stellar in the key role of Cassie. Long before this production, she has created a professional resume as a dancer and actress that ranges from the best of Broadway to Hollywood to premier television productions.

I was impressed with how the Pacific Coast Repertory Theater could possibly garner the amazing talent of so many professional-level performers and draw them into this one local production. All performers give amazing contributions, but I have to shout out about Samantha Cardenas (as Diana who sings "Nothing," but is really something very special); Jerry Navaro as Paul; Laura Bratton-Kearnes (as the "Tits and Ass" girl, Val), and of course, Marhefka, who delivers the goods as Zach).

Performances are at Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Avenue in Pleasanton. Call the box office for tickets at 931-4848, or go to the website at or

Curtain calls: An innocent, joyous 'Chorus Line' in Pleasanton

By Sally Hogarty
Columnist; Inside Bay Area
Posted: 01/30/2014 12:00:00 AM PST

You would think that after all these years and all the performances I've seen of "A Chorus Line" that the prospect of reviewing yet another would send me running for cover -- but, not so. There is something innocent and joyous about young performers giving everything they've got to fulfill a dream that goes straight to the heart.

Conceived -- and originally directed and choreographed -- by the legendary Michael Bennett with Marvin Hamlisch's emotionally charged music and characters captured so beautifully by writers James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicolas Dante, "A Chorus Line" speaks to anyone who has ever struggled to reach an important goal.

Currently playing at Pleasanton's Firehouse Arts Center through Feb. 9, "A Chorus Line" receives a sparkling rendition by Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre and the amazing director/choreographer Lois Grandi. A Broadway veteran herself, Grandi knows all too well the joys and trauma of being a professional dancer. In fact, Grandi danced with Michael Bennett in summer stock when both were in their teens.

"The dancers in this story desperately need a job," writes Grandi in her director's notes. "They need to survive, pay rent, buy food, take classes, etc. I was there, and I know how that feels."

Grandi had the herculean task of finding 27 dancers who could perform a variety of dance styles as well as sing and act. The first musical number, "I Hope I Get It," is a triumph of precise choreography on a stage barely able to hold about 25 enthusiastic hopefuls. While Grandi follows Bennett's original choreography, she adds her own unique touches, such as four dancers forming a high bar for another dancer to hang from and a plethora a beautiful stage pictures.

The energetic director also convinced Meredith Patterson, another Broadway, film and television veteran, to come up from Los Angeles and play the part of Cassie. Originally from the East Bay, Patterson actually took ballet lessons from Grandi as a child before going on to a series of Broadway shows, albums and television appearances.

Another connection for Grandi came when she decided to cast a woman as the director Zach's assistant, a role usually played by a man. Annalise Thompson has all the dance moves to easily take the chorus hopefuls through their paces. "It was such a coincidence that Annalise had trained at Julliard with the daughter of my ballet teacher from the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York all those years ago," says Grandi.

Grandi's vibrant cast does a marvelous job bringing the musical to life, especially Jerry Navarro as Paul and Samantha Cardenas as a knockout Morales. A highlight of the performance was Ezekiel Davis as Richie in a splashy dance number full of thrilling acrobatics. Pat Parr conducts the lively group of musicians with flair.

It's impossible to mention everyone in the talented cast. While a few performers were more limited vocally, they certainly made up for it with their dancing and enthusiasm.

"A Chorus Line" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Because of the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, the matinee has been canceled and a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 1 has been added, in addition to the Feb. 1 evening performance. For tickets, Call 925-931-4848 or go too


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