LONDON, UK — It’s a generous tribute to theatre’s unheralded performers, told through the ins and outs of the audition process as 17 hopefuls compete for eight spots as dancers in a Broadway musical.
“Marvin Hamlisch’s music, which combines lyrical yearning with brutal functionalism and slap-down theatricality, is as brilliant and infectious as ever”- Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com
Their stories become a mosaic (the book is by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante) and are illuminated in moments of documentary-style intensity as the director, Zach, tests them and probes their personal history. The stage is bare, and before long so are the characters’ souls.
We meet scathing diva Sheila, who’s brassy and outrageous, along with vulnerable Paul, 4ft 10 dynamo Connie and passionate Kristine, who can’t sing and isn’t exactly adept at talking. Others are callow, perky or brash. Finally, there’s Cassie, Zach’s former girlfriend, who is desperate for work after failing to make an impact in Hollywood.
Initially reticent, she bursts into life when he questions her decision to give up her quest for stardom and become an anonymous chorus member again.
This is an ensemble piece if ever there was one. Yet it honours the feverish dreams of the theatre world’s less treasured individuals, and every character has a turn in the spotlight. Some are more crowd-pleasing than others.
Leigh Zimmerman’s Sheila gets a lot of the funniest and sassiest lines, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt aces the big ballad. Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie is an intriguing blend of high-kicking exhibitionism and confessional despair, and John Partridge, until recently Christian Clarke in EastEnders, makes a suitably imperious Zach.
Crucial to A Chorus Line’s original success was the choreography of Michael Bennett (who was also its creator and director). Bob Avian, who worked on that Broadway production, oversees this revival, in which Bennett’s painstaking patterns of movement are faithfully reproduced by Baayork Lee.
The rhythm of the show is seductive. Its best sequences are exhilarating or raw, and the finale is majestic. Running at two hours with no interval, it’s a tight and entertaining celebration of physicality — and of life.
A Chorus Line, London Palladium, until January 18, 2014 (0844 4412 2957, achoruslinelondon.com)
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Libby Purves of The Times says:
“Michael Bennett’s show about show-dancers, in its blank mirrored space, lifts and quickens the dullest heart and triumphantly outlasts its gloomy era. The music (by Marvin Hamlisch) certainly does, but so do its people: Bob Avian, one of the original choreographers, directs; Baayork Lee from the original cast restaged the choreography; lighting and costumes from the original are credited… Dance itself is hymned in Ed Kleban’s marvellous lyrics: sigh at the memory of a childhood ballet class. “Up a steep and narrow stairway, to a voice like a metronome. It wasn’t paradise, but it was home!”. What makes the show shine, though, is empathy. The memories and sorrows of a disparate group melt into universal human experience. Two hours straight, at headlong pace: the beautiful, racehorse effort so shines that the first-night audience, in sheer physical sympathy, rose to its feet.” - Libby Purves The Times