The Theatreguide.London Review
One of the greatest Broadway musicals is revived now with as polished, glitzy and exciting a production as you could ask for. And if it has lost some of its soul in the process, that's a price many will be happy to pay.
As everyone this side of Mars knows, the 1975 musical is set in a Broadway audition as a director selects the back-up dancers for his new show. After putting them through their dancing paces he interviews the finalists, drawing out accounts of why they began dancing and what it means to them.
Famously, the musical was developed through workshops and interviews in which the original director Michael Bennett spoke with actual Broadway dancers. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante shaped their stories into a text, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban turned some of them into songs, and many in the original 1975 cast were actually playing lightly fictionalised versions of themselves.
A Chorus Line has one of the best opening numbers in all of Broadway history, with a stageful of people dancing for their lives, and a stunning finale, and they're almost enough to justify any production, with original co-director Bob Avian directing and original cast member Baayork Lee staging Michael Bennett's iconic dances.
But it's what comes in between, and particularly the sense of reality and immediacy that comes from feeling these are real people's stories we are hearing, that is a bit hit-and-miss in this revival.
Some get it exactly right. As Cassie, who tried and failed to rise out of the chorus and now wants back in, Scarlett Strallen captures all the sadness, desperation and steely determination of her spoken scenes and her big song 'The Music And The Mirror'.
(For those old enough to have the original imprinted on their memory, Strallen isn't as flashy a dancer as Donna McKechnie, but a far stronger actress, and powerfully draws all the emotion out of her big number.)
Leigh Zimmerman gets haughty, sexually confident Sheila just right, and 'At The Ballet' (sung with Daisy Maywood and Vicki Lee Taylor) is heartbreakingly beautiful, and John Partridge keeps director Zach from being just a disembodied voice.
But some of the other characterisations and some of what should be iconic moments are just external performances without the sense that we are witnessing somebody's life being laid bare. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's 'Nothing' and Rebecca Herszenhorn's 'Dance 10 Looks 3' are perfectly polished and professional, but with no reality or truth to them.
Gary Wood's spoken account of Paul's growing up gay, which should stop the show with its emotional rawness, is just a nicely-done recitation, and the episode in which a dancer falls and injures himself has none of the heart-stopping horror it wants, because we haven't been drawn into these people's reality enough.
The hardest kind of review to write is the one that says 'This is good, but it could have been better'. If all you want is a big, brassy Broadway musical, here it is, as good as big, brassy Broadway musicals get.
But the greatness of A Chorus Line is that it is all that and more, and a little too much of the more is missing here.
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Review - A Chorus Line - Palladium 2013