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Leah Woodsum, Will Dixon, Kathryn Parks, Danae DeShazer, Eric Gregory, Eliza Engle and Alexandra Achtenberg. Photo by Janet Poelsma

By Kay Kipling

A Chorus Line is one of those shows that somehow inspire fanatical devotion, and those who love the show unconditionally will race to see any production of it. For me, it’s more dicey, especially when this dance musical is presented by a community theater.

Will the hopeful Broadway aspirants look and move like professional chorus line dancers? That’s the question, and the answer can make or break the show.

Luckily, in the Manatee Players’ current production of the Michael Bennett Tony winner, choreographer-director Thomas Dwayne Barrett has assembled a cast that, for the most part, can convince in their roles. Recognizing that, even in the (intentionally) somewhat ragged opening number, I Hope I Get It, as the would-be winners line up to try out for demanding director Zach (also played by Barrett), I almost heaved a sigh of relief.

Forty years after its opening helped, some believe, to “save” a struggling Broadway in a down-on-its-luck New York City, A Chorus Line has become so familiar it’s probably not necessary to say much about its plot, which is minimal anyway. We already know that Zach is opening a new show, and that he must quickly weed out some of the contestants for limited slots. What comes next is getting to know those contestants and the hopes and dreams that led them here.

So we learn about frequently unhappy childhoods where dance provided solace, whether At the Ballet (performed winningly by Danae DeShazer, Eliza Engle and Sarah Cassidy) or in the case of acting student Diana Morales (Melissa Ingrisano), who felt Nothing when called upon to express emotions. Some of the dancers are quite frank or even in your face when Zach demands personal details; others more reticent, like Paul (Phillip Morehouse), who’s OK with being gay but has issues with being effeminate and bullied.

And then there’s Cassie (Kathryn Parks), Zach’s former lover, who’s back to try out for the line after a temporary breakout into featured roles. She has to convince him, in The Music and the Mirror, that she really just wants to dance again, and Parks gives it all she’s got in this vocally and physically demanding number.

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The cast in the show's closing number. Photo by Janet Poelsma

Singling out other high points, let’s mention Keely Karalis as Val, proudly talking about her bodily improvements as she struts on Dance: Ten; Looks: Three, and Ingrisano again, on the show’s anthem, What I Did for Love. But the show may really be at its best when the ensemble is performing on complicated numbers like Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love and, of course, One, when you can really see how hard they must have worked and far they must have come since they started rehearsing.

Kudos to Barrett, music director G. Frank Meekins and the design team for pulling off this challenging show. A Chorus Line continues through Jan. 24; for tickets call 748-5875 or go to manateeperformingartscenter.com.

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