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“A Chorus Line” is “one singular sensation at BWU

‘A Chorus Line” is “one singular sensation” at BWU

Roy Berko

(member, Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

Baldwin Wallace is a powerhouse in providing talent to the Broadway stage.  In the past year, over a dozen of the program’s grads have listed, “a proud graduate of Baldwin Wallace” in their Great White Way “Playbill” resumes.

What’s the secret?  A selection system that picks only the best applicants, fine training in dancing, voice and acting, and good counseling in the art of trying out and obtaining an agent.  The student’s culminating activity is participating in a New York showcase during the student’s senior year that exposes their talents to directors, casting agents and Broadway movers and shakers.

Two of those grads, and incidentally Aurora, Ohio residents, Chris McCarrell (class of 2013) and Caitlin Houlahan (2014) will be appearing in NBC TV’s “Peter Pan Live,” on December 4 at 8 PM.  McCarrell, fresh off his Broadway debut as Joly and Marius’s understudy in this year’s revival of “Les Misérables,” will play Nibs, one of the lost boys, while Houlahan, who lit up the stage in this year’s “Carrie“ at Beck Center, will be Jane.

The students got to hone their tryout and performance skills by staging “A Chorus Line,” which showcases a group of dancers auditioning.  Each dancer is showcased as s/he tries to win a spot in the chorus line.  The production was staged by the program’s director Victoria Bussert, with musical direction by David Pepin, and Gregory Daniels restaging the original choreography.

A Chorus Line,” the 1975 Broadway show, which won twelve Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett.  The role of Cassie was portrayed by Donna McKecknie, a character based in great part on hers life, as was the role of Maggie.

McKecknie, a Tony Award winner, was a close associate with Bennett, who she later married. McKecknie was brought in to work with the BW students as they rehearsed for their staging of “A Chorus Line?”

Yes, the students not only got to work with Victoria Bussert, but with a star from the original production, who is also an expert on Bennett’s demanding choreographic style. Exposure to Broadway power players is part of the BW program.

BWU’s “A Chorus Line” featured two alternating casts during its 10 performance run (November 13 through November 23).

I saw the Cassie cast perform.  And what a performance it was!  It was difficult to realize that these weren’t experienced professionals.

The very physically and psychologically demanding dancing was finely carried out by the youthful performers.

The cast was almost universally excellent, with many displaying Broadway-ready skills.  Standouts were Michael Canada as Paul, whose monologue about coming to terms with his sexuality, was emotionally stirring.   Genna-Paige Kanago as Cassie had the difficult task of dancing the demanding “The Music and the Mirror.”  She carried it off impressively.  Victoria Pippo portrayed the role of the bitchy and sexy Sheila with just the right attitude, not going over board and begging for laughs.  Mackenzie Wright stopped the show with her vocalization of “What I Did for Love.” Annalise Griswold was delightful as Val, whose version of “Dance Ten, Looks:  Three,” often referred to as “Tits and Ass,” was a show highlight.

Side notes:  Elyria native, Lorain County Community College and Kent State graduate, Crissy Wilzak, had a long run as Broadway’s Val.  She also played Vicki and Judy in the show’s run.  And, Elyria High School grad James Kirkwood won a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for co-writing the book for “A Chorus Line.”

If you missed seeing “A Chorus Line,” you will have the opportunity to see some of the students from the BWU program at Beck Center when the theatre presents “Dogfight” from February 6 through March 15, 2015.  The show, based on the musical film of the same name, centers on three young Marines, who, in 1963, before the night of their deployment, learn the power of compassion.  For tickets call 216-521-2540 or for information and/or tickets, go to