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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 1 year ago

Garden Theatre opening 'A Class Act'

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Eight actors and actresses are bringing the story of lyricist Ed Kleban to life through ‘A Class Act’ at the Garden Theatre.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

It’s only fitting that the story of a renowned composer and lyricist’s life is told through a musical on stage.

Edward “Ed” Kleban is best known as lyricist of the Broadway hit “A Chorus Line,” but he accumulated numerous accomplishments over time — sharing a Pulitzer Prize for drama, working with Columbia Records and winning a Tony Award. 

Kleban died 33 years ago, but to this day, his life story is written in song via the musical “A Class Act” — a story that eight actors and actresses will bring to life through Feb. 7 at the Garden Theatre.

In the Garden Theatre’s production, Sean Powell will star as Kleban. Also featured are Lillie Eliza Thomas as Sophie, Terry E. Thomas as Lehman Engel, Gavin Waid as Bobbie/Michael Bennett, Russell Stephens as Charley/Marvin Hamlisch, Valerie Torres-Rosario as Lucy, Tay Anderson as Felicia, and Sarah Beth Ganey as Mona.

“A Class Act” is set in 1988 and is set during Kleban’s memorial service at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre — 12 years after he won a Tony Award for his lyrics in “A Chorus Line.” His friends are gathered there to reminisce about shared performances, jobs and workshops. Kleban joins them on stage to relive the struggles, triumphs and important moments of his life. What’s more is that “A Class Act” features songs written by Kleban himself.

Valerie Torres-Rosario personifies Lucy, a character based on the life and personality of librettist Linda Kline, Kleban’s longtime companion who was instrumental in bringing “A Class Act” to life. 

“Throughout the show, we see all of the characters kind of flash forward and back in time, but the role of Lucy in Ed’s life — aside from being a collaborator and a friend — she was Ed’s most recent love interest before his passing,” Torres-Rosario said. “She was kind of there holding his hand through the end of his life. She is the one who is kind of at the front of or the organizer of this event, so she in a sense is responsible for making sure that Ed’s wishes come true.”

This is Torres-Rosario’s first production with the Garden Theatre, and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to be on stage — especially in the midst of a pandemic, when masks must be worn and social distancing practiced.

Torres-Rosario has loved musical theater since she was introduced to it in elementary school, and that passion stuck with her through college. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in musical theater and has auditioned all over Florida ever since, though she lives in Orlando.

“I’ve been wanting to work at this theater for quite a long time, and I’m excited that this is a show I get to do as my first show at the Garden Theatre,” she said. “While a lot of these characters you see within the show are historical in one way or another, there’s still that freedom to explore the life that you bring into this story. Also, the pure opportunity to just be on a stage is really exciting in this time. … There are so many artists and performers who haven’t been able to step on the stage. To just occupy that space and be present and create and collaborate in a safe way is a gift.”

Torres-Rosario added that Garden Theatre Artistic Director Joseph Walsh has encouraged his cast to not fit into the mold of who their historical characters are or were. That allows the actors and actresses some creative freedom to interpret their roles and breathe life into the characters.

“I love it and I’ve missed it, and every time I’m off stage I want to be on stage again,” she said.

One of the best parts of being on stage, she said, is the audience, and it’s one of the things she is most looking forward to about performing in “A Class Act.”

“An audience is like a character in the show, as well,” Torres-Rosario said. “You’re doing all of this work, and I feel as though I have grown as a human and as an artist, but it comes to that point where you want to share it. You’re creating something for a purpose, and I think that people are going to take a lot out of what ‘A Class Act’ has to offer. It’s so beautifully told. I’m really excited to put on a costume and run the show. … I love seeing it all come together because … you get to see the world that you’ve created.”

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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