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PHOTO BY KEN EK PHOTO BY KEN EK "A Chorus Line," Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, through June 29, Paul C. Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown

Theater Review: 'Chorus Line' rocks Muhlenberg stage

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Seventeen audition in a process that reveals not only their talent, but personal lives and character.

No, it's not "American Idol," "America's Got Talent" or "So You Think You Can Dance," but rather an inspiration for reality TV talent show competitions.

It's "A Chorus Line," where 17 dancers compete for eight spots in the dancing, singing and acting chorus of a Broadway show.

The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (MSMT) production of "A Chorus Line" continues through June 29, Paul C. Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

There is excitement on stage from the opening moments of "A Chorus Line," directed briskly and confidently by MSMT co-founder Charles Richter.

The Company's opening number, "I Hope I Get It," with Zach (a fine Robert Torres) putting the hopefuls through their "turn, turn, turn, back step" paces, conveys the combination of enthusiasm and fear not only in the dancers' steps, but in their minds, as well.

This is a touching, moving, passionate "A Chorus Line." You will leave the Baker Center dancing on air, with the exuberance of the production and energy of the performers putting a stride in your step and a smile on your face.

Richter emphasizes the poignancy of each of the main dancers' stories, beginning with a cast of 28. As the emotional stakes for each are raised, the audience more and more identifies with their plight. You feel as though you are behind-the-scenes.

Choreographer Karen Dearborn has the dancers stepping across the stage with military-like precision. The dancers weave in and out of each other, maintaining lines and patterns that are breathtaking to behold. The dancers' legs kick higher than their heads.

Music director and conductor Michael Schnack brings out the repeating nine-note brassy fanfare with a volume that is punchy and magnificent. The Company's singing fills the theater. The 16-member orchestra rocks the score.

Lighting Designer John McKernon uses bold washes of green and purple at one point, outlining the dancers' forms and representing their vibrant energy, adding to the show's overall electrifying effect.

Scenic and Costume Designer Campbell Baird keeps the stage bare, save for mirrors that are brought into scenes on several occasions. He has effectively outfitted the cast with 1970's street and dance attire.

The MSMT production gives renewed appreciation to Marvin Hamlisch's strongly melodic music and Edward Kleban's cleverly insightful lyrics.

Among the more memorable numbers are "... And..." by Richie (Jakeim Hart), Val (a delightful Chelsea Montgomery-Duban), Judy (Marie DiNorcia) and the Company; "At The Ballet" by Sheila (a wonderful Julia Garber), Bebe (Sarah Biren) and Maggie (Molly Karlin); and "Sing," by Kristine (a hilarious Zoe Briggs), Al (a standout Ryan Skerchak) and Company.

"A Chorus Line" builds upon the "Montage" numbers to four astounding production numbers: "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three," by Val (Montgomery-Duban); "The Music And The Mirror," by Cassie (a superb Emily Phillips); "One," by the Company; and "What I Did For Love," by Diana (Angela DeAngelo, in terrific voice) and Company.

Throughout the show, the disembodied voice of Zach (Torres) bellows, cajoles and counsels, challenging the dancers to cross the line painted on the stage floor literally and figuratively. Zach becomes therapist to the dancers, none more so than for Paul (a sensitive Kevin Kulp).

"A Chorus Line" concludes with the best curtain call in show business, a reprise of "One," this time with dancers in full costume. With "A Chorus Line," everyone's a winner, especially the audience.