A Chorus Line is the fifth longest running Broadway show. It ran for over 6000 performances straight, was a box office hit and received unprecedented critical acclaim, winning nine Tony Awards and the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Even though the much anticipated Australian revival, which recently premiered in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre, is billed as ‘the classic Broadway musical for a new generation’, there are still strong ties to the original 1975 production – directed by original cast member Baayork Lee. The current reincarnation of A Chorus Line does not disappoint.
The reason A Chorus Line has been an almost permanent Broadway fixture is due, in part, to the timeless allure of performing in a Broadway production. Based on real conversations with actors working in New York City in the 70s, the story follows seventeen performers from all walks of life through a trying auditioning process. Each is hopeful and talented, but there are only eight vacancies in this Broadway chorus line: four girls, four boys.
Sitting in the stalls, with the voice of Zach (Joshua Horner) seemingly calling down from the director’s vantage point in the Dress Circle, the audience feels involved in the audition process. We, like Zach, judge the characters not only on their tap and ballet, but on their charisma and motivation. Zach’s continual probing results in two hours of emotionally charged monologues and musical numbers, which ultimately leave the audience wondering: was it real, or was it all just part of the act? The finale is bittersweet, with success in their role dependent on performing in complete harmony with their neighbour, to ultimately form One Singular Sensation – a homogenous chorus line.
The consistently high energy levels and unwavering commitment of each performer is a testament to Baayork Lee’s excellent direction. The unrelenting stress of the audition process is almost palpable in I Hope I Get It and, at the shows conclusion the audience find themselves hoping that each ensemble member lands the role.
The filled-with-attitude Sheila, Adelaide’s own Debra Krizak, was a definite crowd favourite, however in this strong ensemble cast there were few individual standouts. Other notable exceptions were Cassie (Anita Louise Combe), with her rendition of The Music and the Mirror, and Paul’s (Euan Doldge) dramatically powerful monologue of self-discovery and acceptance.
The Adelaide Art Orchestra, under the musical direction of Paul White, was flawless throughout, paying tribute to the timeless compositions of Marvin Hamlisch. The recreated choreography of Michael Bennet was the highlight – with the strict and traditional company movements contrasting with the modern and expressive solo moments.
The set design was minimalistic, with only rehearsal mirrors and duffle bags, allowing the action of the audition to be the primary visual focus. The space and mirrors were well utilised by Baayork Lee, and no doubt posed an interesting challenge for lighting designer Tharon Musser and lighting realisor Gavan Swift. Thankfully, the predominance of downlighting allowed the audience to be dazzled by the dancing, rather than blinded by the lights.
Several performers seemed exposed during individual numbers, with vocal weaknesses amplified by ongoing sound engineering issues (Simon Gregory). Microphones were occasionally incorrectly cued, and in some ensemble numbers were poorly equalised, resulting in overpowering individual voices (which always seemed to be singing harmony) – reminding this reviewer of Zina Goldrich’s Alto’s Lament. For a production of this calibre, annoying and distracting teething problems such as these should have been recognised and rectified in the previews prior to opening night.
The obvious standout number was the final ensemble piece – One Singular Sensation. Suddenly the sparse set and audition leotards were gone: gold top hats and bowties prevailed. The combined vocal strength and precision dancing of the entire cast culminated in a fantastic musical and visual crescendo, raising the performance to new heights in its closing moments. All of a sudden the hopeful performers were immersed in the glitz and glamour of Broadway.
The emotional and energetic performances on opening night far outweighed any technical shortcomings, and provided these are addressed immediately, A Chorus Line will be an excellent show. This gripping and light-hearted show will provide an enjoyable night at the theatre.
Worth noting: the show runs for two hours and – as it was in the original production in 1975 – there is no interval.