A Chorus Line [London Palladium]

A Chorus Line
A musical conceived and originally co-choreographed & directed by Michael Bennett, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante

Judy – Lucy Jane Adcock
Trisha – George Ashford
Bobby – Ed Currie
Kristine – Frances Dee
Butch – Segun Fawole
Mark – Harry Francis
Swing / Dance Captain – Rebecca Giacopazzi
Diana – Victoria Hamilton-Barritt
Vicki – Katy Hards
Al – Simon Hardwick
Val – Rebecca Herszenhorn
Richie – James T. Lane
Lois – Alice Jane Murray
Swing – Genevieve Nicole
Swing / Assistant Dance Captain – Ashley Nottingham
Zach – John Partridge
Larry – Alastair Postlethwaite
Greg – Andy Rees
Mike – Adam Salter
Connie – Alexzandra Sarmiento
Tom – Michael Steedon
Cassie – Scarlett Strallen
Maggie – Vicki Lee Taylor
Frank – Jon Tsouras
Don – Gary Watson
Paul – Gary Wood
Sheila – Leigh Zimmerman

Danny Whitby (deputy musical Director & keyboards), Simon Heeley (piano), Camilla Pay (harp), Justin Quinn (guitars), Jo Nichols (bass guitar & double bass), James Powell (drums), Matt Whittington (percussion), Phil Todd, James Mainwaring, Paul Stevens & Neil Crossley (reeds), Simon Gardner, Jean-Paul Gervasoni & Andy Gathercole (trumpets), Mike Kearsey & Steve Haynes (trombones) and Dave Stewart (bass trombone); Alan Williams (musical director)

Bob Avian – Director & Original Co-Choreographer
Baayork Lee – Re-stager of Choreography
Robin Wagner – Scenic Designer
Theoni V. Aldredge – Costume Designer
Tharon Musser – Original Lighting Designer
Natasha Katz – Lighting Adapter
Nick Lidster & Terry Jardine – Sound Designers

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 February, 2013
Venue: London Palladium

A Chorus Line. Photograph: Manuel HarlanIn 1975 A Chorus Line was a breakthrough in musical theatre – it could not have been more different to classic Broadway shows. But it did not set out to be in the tradition of Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun, Hello, Dolly!, or My Fair Lady. It has virtually no plot and no narrative thread. Instead, Michael Bennett created an audition for a show; what the audience sees is a rehearsal as twenty-three performers are whittled down to seventeen who then go in pursuit of the eight required roles.

We have had films and television shows like Fame, Smash, and Glee, covering similar ground, but Bennett got there first and with real-life stories. He had been a dancer in West Side Story, and Subways are for Sleeping, and became a choreographer, his first big success being Promises, Promises, the musical that was based on BiIly Wilder’s film The Apartment (with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine), followed by Coco with Katharine Hepburn and Sondheim’s Company and Follies. After taking over on the Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical Seesaw as writer, director and choreographer, he began to create A Chorus Line, which he also directed and choreographed.

A Chorus Line. Photograph: Manuel HarlanThe show’s basis lies in the hundreds of hours of taped conversations which Bennett had with fellow-dancers, their working – or not working – in the theatre, their dreams, their frustrations and their successes which writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante fashioned into a book, a sort of invented documentary about life on the line, each reminiscence played out to the audience as Zach, resident director-choreographer (maybe based on Bennett himself), gets his auditioning performers to reveal something of themselves.

At the time it was a moving testament to the unsung performer and sold-out its run at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater but soon transferred to Broadway where it ran for fifteen years. It garnered many awards – nine Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama among them. The London production lasted just three years from 1976 to 1979 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It subsequently played around the world until the early 1980s. From 2006 there have been many revivals in the USA, Australia, Mexico, Singapore and now London again where it seems destined for another extended run. The intervening years have not dulled its impact and it proves every bit as moving. It comes with authentic credentials in that one of the original choreographers, Bob Avian, is directing and Baayork Lee, who played Connie back then, is using the first choreography.

A Chorus Line. Photograph: Manuel HarlanPerhaps the continuing success of A Chorus Line lies in its simplicity. The auditioning dancers assemble for Zach (John Partridge) and one by one tell him, and us, why they are there. Zach needs four boys and four girls. They all have to impress him, showing what a cruel world the theatre can be: every time a performer auditions, they have to prove their worth as if they were starting their careers from scratch.

The opening number says it all, ‘I hope I get it’. In ‘I can do that’, Mike (Adam Salter) tells how he became a dancer by going to see his sister in a class and, when she left, he stayed. Bobby (Ed Currie) reveals an unhappy childhood but, while the others find the soul-searching a bind, they continue because, as they admit in song, “I’ve got to get this job, I really need this job, I’ve got to get this job today”. Sheila (Leigh Zimmerman), a worldly-wise, smart cookie, explains that she found solace ‘At the ballet’ in a break from her ghastly parental upbringing, an experience common to two of the other girls. In ‘Sing!’, Kristine (Frances Dee) bemoans the fact that she cannot hold a tune, but she can dance. Paul (Gary Wood) always wanted to be Cyd Charisse and (literally) found himself while working in a drag show.

Other revelations deal with adolescence, discovering homosexuality, life at school and the shape of one’s body. ‘Dance ten, looks: three’ has Val (Rebecca Herszenhorn) proposing that a talent for dance is not always essential, because a decent bosom and a pert butt (following plastic surgery) can work wonders: “Tits and ass can change your life / They sure changed mine.” As the other life-stories unfold it becomes apparent that Cassie (Scarlett Strallen), had had a relationship with Zach and has failed to make the grade in Hollywood as a solo artist, and is now trying to get back on the boards much against Zach’s wishes who thinks she’s too good for the chorus line. In ‘The music and the mirror’ she sets out her stall in music and dance: all she wants from life is the chance to dance.

In the original production Cassie was played by Donna McKechnie, who for some time was, poignantly enough, the partner of Michael Bennett. She played the role in New York and London and also, would you believe, on radio at a time when the BBC used to broadcast its own productions of musicals. I was at the recording at Golders Green Hippodrome where a dance space was erected for McKechnie to perform ‘The music and the mirror’ – electrifying in the theatre if maybe less so on radio. Scarlett Strallen performs the piece with a superb display of terpsichorean prowess.

Gradually, as the company is whittled down to the final eight, they perform the big number, ‘One’, ostensibly about the star of the show, the “One singular sensation, / Every little step she takes, / One thrilling combination, / Every move that she makes…” but for the finale it brings the eight dancers together. Having shed their practice clothes, they emerge in glittering gold costumes looking alike … a chorus line.

It’s invidious to single out performers. Scarlett Strallen is outstanding, Gary Wood as Paul is very moving in his owning up about the past, Leigh Zimmerman is terrific as the seen-it-all, done-it-all, wisecracking Sheila … but really it is such a good company and are all brilliant dancers. John Partridge’s Zach holds the piece together, almost brutally so, taking no prisoners. A Chorus Line is such a theatrical piece (forget the terrible film version) with a brilliant score by the recently late Marvin Hamlisch. With songs such as ‘I can do that’, ‘Hello twelve, hello thirteen, hello love’, ‘Nothing’, ‘One’ and ‘What I did for love’ the show is packed with great tunes setting punchy lyrics by Edward Kleban. A Chorus Line is guaranteed a place in the hearts of many audiences still to come.

  • A Chorus Line is at the London Palladium, Argyll Street, London W1
  • Monday to Saturday 7.45 p.m., matinees Wednesday & Saturday at 3
  • Tickets 084 412 2704

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