29 July 2012

A Chorus Line at the Capitol Theatre Sydney

This show is a revival of the 70’s musical about Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line. The book was by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics were written by Edward Kleban, and music was composed by Marvin Hamlisch.

The original Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, was an unprecedented box office and critical hit, receiving 12 Tony Award nominations and winning nine of them. It remains the fifth longest-running Broadway show ever. The show has enjoyed many successful productions worldwide and was revived on Broadway in 2006.

One of the greatest nights in the theatre for me was in 1976 at the opening night of the Australian premiere at Her Majesty Theatre down at Chinatown. There was a lot of hype and in those times openings were very glamorous affairs, I’ll never forget we attended as a group of Les Girls showgirls and we had tickets about four or five rows from the back in the circle. Those circle seats at Her Maj were as steep as all hell and just getting in and out was hilarious – sorry but I digress the revival bit set me off.

So true to the original, this production is directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee, Michael Bennett’s assistant who played out her life story as Connie Wong in the original production of A Chorus Line on Broadway. Now, trained by Bennett himself, she travels the world mounting productions of this seminal musical.

With nineteen main characters, it is set on the bare stage of a Broadway theatre during an audition for a musical. The show provides a glimpse into the personalities of the performers and the choreographer as they describe the events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers. It’s often referred to as the dancer’s musical.

The shows opens with tryout auditions in full swing under the supervision of the director Zach, played here by Josh Horner of Dancing with the Stars and Billy Elliot fame. He is a wonderful dancer with enormous stage presence and perfectly cast as Zach.

From here the pace and style started to show its age; it’s a different energy were used to now.  Some of the stories don’t have the punch they did in the mid 70’s and lots of audience sitting around us got very unsettled – off to the candy bar the lou - whatever. This show is played at two hours without an interval and holding the audience can be tricky. 

Tits and Ass yes that got everyone’s attention, it’s the song Dance ten looks three and comes about halfway, its sung by Val Clark, (Hayley Winch) a foul-mouthed but excellent dancer who couldn't get performing jobs because of her looks until she had plastic surgery. It’s still a brilliant showtune and she was great.

From here the whole show seemed to lift and when we came to, what I think is the highlight here, Cassie Ferguson (Anita Louise Combe) a once successful solo dancer down on her luck and a former love of Zach's and the well-known solo The Music and the Mirror it’s magic.

One of the most touching moments in the show comes when Zach calls Paul (Euan Doidge) to the stage to tell his story. Paul San Marco is a gay Puerto Rican who dropped out of high school and survived a troubled childhood to perform in a drag show. The script is original remember and drag still had mixed connotations then. Here a drag show is referred to as the arse-end of show business and drag queens as freaks. We’ve travelled a long way from that point in the search for inclusion and respect to hear these words – which I once heard frequently - made me wince. It was sad for me to see a new audience being educated to this kind of out dated language. 

This show includes the song What I did for love which sits in my personal Broadway showtunes top ten – alas I was disappointed to hear it sung in this production. It is sung pre-finale and as a love song to dance by Diana Morales (Karlee Misipeka) and I just wonder how much more could have been made of it if sung by one of the stronger singers (Cassie perhaps) – just one alteration to the script.

The finale to A Chorus Line is one of the greatest Broadway show spectaculars – all dancers together in a line belting the famous “one singular sensation” and it was. If you have never seen A Chorus Line before it’s a must as part of life’s Broadway classic education. If like me you enjoyed it the first time around, in a very different time, then you might find this revival a tad patchy.  

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