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A CurtainUp London Review
A Chorus Line
We are seeing the show as it was in 1975, running then on Broadway for 15 years. It is sad to realise how many of the original creators, Michael Bennett the director, Nicholas Dante author of the book and lyricist Edward Kleban met their deaths before the age of 50. The show opens as public interest in professional dance is at its height with celebrity television dance competitions and dance talent shows dominating the media.
The dance routines are outstanding and exciting as this group of audition dancers are put through their paces. Leading them is television's Eastender Christian Clarke, played by ballet trained, John Partridge as Zach, the director and Alastair Postlethwaite as Larry, his dance captain. But what made A Chorus Line different from other musicals at the time was the poignant stories behind the aspiring performers, the dark side of their lives and the hope of escape into the unreality of a Broadway show.
Several of the dancers have very unhappy home lives with a resulting low self esteem. Some have abusive childhoods of which Puerto Rican, Paul San Marco (Gary Wood)'s is the most harrowing with his description at age 7 or 8 of being molested by strange men in movie houses, presumably to increase the family income. I felt some of the same indignation last winter in New York watching small Asian children mechanically perform on an electronic piano on the subway platforms while a parent milked the tourists; ok it wasn't sexual abuse but it is still not a good life for a child.
It is these background stories which gives A Chorus Line the shade which allows the bright lights to appear to shine brighter. But it is very 1970s this public pouring out of the obstacles met on the way to the stage. Leigh Zimmerman, a frequent Broadway star, towers over the rest of the cast as Sheila, with all her attitude.
I loved the singing from Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana in the song "Nothing" and the penultimate number "What I Did For Love" as the cast look at what has to be sacrificed for dance when asked what they would do if they couldn't dance. It is a love song to the business. I liked too Vicki Lee Taylor as Maggie, one who doesn't make it into the final eight.
Scarlett Strallen is cast as Cassie, Zach's ex-girlfriend, and her story is that despite her talent she hasn't worked for two years, but Zach feels she is "too good" for the chorus. Strallen gets a show stopping dance number but the night I saw her, she didn't thrill or convince on an emotional level. John Partridge has great stage presence and is a wonderful dancer although again, I wasn't convinced by his attachment to Cassie and I do regret that for so much of the show he is a voice at the rear of the audience.
The finale clothes everyone in the gold sparkling costumes and gold top hats in a sensational and beautifully lit line up where the chorus line is uniform and larger than the individual identities of the participants. There are some very good tunes which are well known and easy to sing and A Chorus Line is a piece of Broadway history but is itground breaking in 2013 and will it find an audience to fill the Palladium until January 2014?
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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