Spring musical set for Bethany

THE AMERICAN collegiate tradition of staging a spring musical continues to be observed at nearby Bethany College as the finishing touches of last minute details are being addressed in anticipation of the school’s presentation of the legendary Broadway musical, “A Chorus Line”.

Dubbed by industry icons as “the musical for everyone who’s ever had a dream and put it on the line,” the show has won nine Tony Awards, including “Best Musical” and enjoys the distinction of having been selected as the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama .

This popular musical will be presented on the stage of the Wailes Theatre in Steinman Hall on the campus of Bethany College

The curtain goes up on the production for the first time on Thursday, March 31. Curtain time will be 8 p.m. for “A Chorus Line” performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 31, April 1 – 2.

The curtain goes up at 2 p.m. for the performance on Sunday, April 3.

Admission cost is $7 per person for the general public, but is reduced to $5 per person with presentation of a Bethany College ID. Reservations can be made by calling 304-829-7124.

Audition opportunities for roles in the college’s staging of this award winning show were open to all interested students, according to Director Luke Hardt, associate professor of theatre, director of Bethany College Theatre and Chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts. Hardt is, himself, a Bethany graduate.

Choreographing the show at Bethany and shouldering the responsibility of teaching and overseeing all aspects of dance instruction, movement and dance performance relating to this musical is Cheryl Pompeo; also a member of the college staff and head of Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance.

The show is being presented through Bethany College’s Theatre and Dance department resources.

The structure of the show’s framework intentionally puts details of each character’s life – large and small – center stage with the goal of sharing a no holds barred look at “what it is like to be a dancer in a Broadway show.”

In particular its characters are considered to be “Broadway gypsies”: dancers who have given up everything in order to be on stage, “even as just anonymous high-kickers in the ensemble.”

In its original form “A Chorus Line” was born of a dream carefully handcrafted by the late Michael Bennett, then the show’s director and choreographer.

His materials were gleaned from numerous interviews with dancers, including eight who went on to play versions of them in the show.

Audiences and performers worldwide have been enjoying the classic American musical for more than 35 years, with little if any indication its popularity is in danger of diminishing any time soon.

A Chorus Line, often described as a little musical about Broadway dancers has been described by theater experts as a “cultural phenomenon”.

The impressive list of accolades the show has received over its more than 35 year run history includes winning a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award.

It has the distinction of being “the longest running show on Broadway”.

“In an empty theatre, on a bare stage, casting for a new Broadway musical is almost complete. For 17 dancers, this audition is the change of a lifetime. It’s what they have worked for with every drop of sweat, every hour of training, and every day of their lives. It’s the one opportunity to do what they always dreamed — to have the chance to dance.

Cast members for the local performances “A Chorus Line” at Bethany College beginning Thursday, March 31 of “A Chorus Line” includes Ohioans Remington Keyes of Zanesville, April O’Brien of Columbus, Peter Lim of St. Clairsville, Joey Albus of Beallsville, Andrew Ferguson of Brilliant and Patrick McGregor II, also of Columbus.

Other members of the cast include Richard “Twist” Oliver, Amber Lancaster, Amanda Madurski, Alix Lilly, and Carlie Fisher, and Chelsea Wright-Saus, Brandon Miller, Evan Oslund, Alex Tamsula, Allyson Tylka, Kaitlyn Black, Tori Rhoads, Katie Woekener, Sara Drews, Caitie Rorke, Katie Horneffer, Mari Kolanko, Michael Morris, Adelaide Estep, and Morgan McCool.

Others affiliated with Bethany College, in addition to Hardt and Pompeo, who are working on the production include Tracie Duncan, Emerald Cavoto and Shawn Holmes.

Work on the show has been largely packed into the months of January, February and March, noted Hardt.

As a director, connecting members of the cast to the atmosphere of life for aspiring dancers in New York City in 1975 has been a unique challenge, noted Hardt, reflecting on how drastically different the world is with cell phone access and Internet access as a part of everyday life today.

In 1975, the era in which the play is set, the flow of information was seen at a considerably different pace as there were no cell phones; there was no Internet, and there were no real opportunities for the everyday person to utilize the services of computers to network – as is seen routinely today.

Connecting the actors to the common limitations of trying to connect – to communicate with others – to the frustrations and joys which came with everyday life at that time for society in general has been an eye-opening experience, offered Hardt.

“When people have down time during rehearsal instead of seeing them watch what else is going on, they are very likely to be on the Internet, on their cell or texting. Getting them to understand how different the world was before this era of immediate information access arrived was an unexpected detail we had to address,” he offered. “Until we could make those pressures and limitations real to the cast they weren’t going to truly ‘get’ a feel for life as dancers in the show would have experienced it.”

St. Clairsville resident Peter Lim was elated to learn he would be able to help support the dance effort for this musical by volunteering his dancing and acting skills, and at the same time he would be assisting Hardt’s mission to “connect” the college students with the realities of life faced by each of the characters in the musical.

Lim has been cast in the role of “Larry” an assistant choreographer.

“The chance to dance and act in ‘A Chorus Line’ is a dancer’s dream,” shared Lim, a computer technology expert and member of the professional staff at Ohio University Eastern, he often volunteers his time, dance skills, and computer expertise in support of theater projects across the region. He is particularly well known by those who participate in classes at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance at the Stifel Center in Wheeling which Pompeo heads.

When watching a key dance number being performed by “Cassie” audience members may well be witnessing one of the earliest professional successes of an up and coming choreographer who is already making a name for herself as a dancer, and instructor at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Center.

Pompeo offered 12-year-old St. Clairsville resident Kalista J’lyse Kafana – a sixth grader – the opportunity to choreograph a key solo number in the Bethany production of “A Chorus Line”.

She then offered her the opportunity to teach it to the college student cast in that role.

The resulting piece is packed with technical difficulties, athletic challenges, and a joyous blend of dance elements drawn from various disciplines she personally enjoys: jazz and lyrical dance.

Kafana is a volunteer instructor at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance, and a longtime student of Pompeo.

Her bright smile and obvious love of the disciplines of dance, and high level of technical skills in various styles has made her a popular member of the musical’s production team despite the obvious difference in age between a sixth grader and college students who are the cast members.

The sixth grader is a veteran member of the elite Pittsburgh Youth Ballet where she is in the pre-professional program; has been accepted as a returning student in a prestigious summer dance program in the Philadelphia area; and hopes to ultimately study at The Julliard School in New York.

Kafana’s answer when asked what she thinks about the time and effort put into a college musical production such as is “A Chorus Line,” her answer went to the heart of such opportunities and experiences as preparing a college musical.

“I’m having fun!”

Loccisano may be reached at kloccisano@timesleaderonline.com