BWW Reviews: A CHORUS LINE, London Palladium, February 19 2013
A Chorus Line hasn't been performed in the West End since the original London production closed in 1979, making its first revival one of 2013's most anticipated theatrical events.
Director Bob Avian was co-choreographer to the original Broadway production, which famously utilised a long creative process, using interviews with genuine NYC chorus dancers to produce the book. The excellent script depicts a highly competitive and somewhat unorthodox audition for eight chorus jobs on Broadway. The concept is simple, yet cleverly sustained, sometimes voicing the surreal babble of auditionees' thoughts.
Any performer will be able to relate: on a comedic level, during Sing! where Kristine (played
beautifully by Frances Dee) showcases The Common problem of being a dancer who just can't sing, or the brilliant sequence after the cast have learnt some lyrics and can no longer really remember the dance.
Somehow, though, A Chorus Line takes material that ought to be clichéd cheese and makes
the audience truly engage with the characters' sometimes desperate desire to work in the industry they feel passionately about. It's a shamelessly, gloriously open musical about the human and artistic motivations for staying in a cutthroat business - a theme to provoke empathy from any performer or theatre-goer.
While there were some very sketchy individual vocals and a few clumsy dramatic moments, the performances were generally excellent. The cast did a terrific job of being a collection of individuals; as Cassie says, "They're all special." Particular mentions must be given to Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for her portrayal of Diana (complete with an impressive Bronx accent), Gary Wood for his understated and believable Paul, and Leigh Zimmerman for her magnetic turn as Sheila - hilarious, with flawless glimpses of vulnerability. The company contains a delightfully eclectic mixture of characters, which gives the show a very fun, realistic dynamic. John Partridge, as director Zach, successfully achieved the challenging task of having to largely create a character from offstage, as the voice that cuts or contracts. The only disappointment was Scarlett Strallen, who just wasn't a determined, independent Cassie; however, her dance was great, performing the gloriously 70s choreography with fantastic aplomb. Yet I couldn't help but wonder if there isn't some actress out there who, like Cassie, has been unluckily unemployed for a couple of years and might not have been so well-known.
Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away in August, sadly missing what is a truly excellent tribute to his work. This music's catchy and the underscoring and instrumentation cleverly bring the most out of the script and Edward Kleban's lyrics. While individual vocal performances weren't fantastic (this is, after all, a show for dancers), the ensemble singing was beautifully resonant. The combination of Hamlisch's score and Hamilton-Barritt's reserved, honest rendition of What I Did for Love received the heartfelt audience reaction it deserved.
The set is traditionally simple - plain and black, occasionally using those iconic mirrors. Like much of the show, it was predictable, but still so rewarding. A Chorus Line is what it
says on the tin - and that line is comprised of some very talented individuals. Part of its magic is that the characters and actors really do have something in common; in a show about veterans clinging onto painstakingly crafted careers and fresh-faced dreamers who're just starting out, isn't it exciting that four of the cast have only recently finished training? Ballerina Alice Jane Murray is only nineteen years old - she left her training early, after being cast through open auditions. After the show, you'll understand why she did.
Dum der duh dum der duh dum...