A Chorus Line is a Broadway classic. With the original production opening in 1975 and running until 1990, at its closing A Chorus Line was the longest running production on Broadway. Winning twelve Tony Awards, it was only the fifth musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Thirty-seven years after the original production, little has changed, with the new Australian tour a reproduction of the work of original director/chorographer Michael Bennett by original cast member Baayork Lee. Here, we are given an assertive and confident production of a piece which fills an essential place in the musical theatre canon. A Chorus Line is the production you would expect to see.
On a bare stage we watch as hopefuls audition for a place in the chorus line of a Broadway musical. In addition to knowing his cast can dance and sing, director Zach (Joshua Horner) also wants to know a little bit about the people behind the performers. We meet seventeen performers, and from them four boys and four girls will be selected for Broadway.
For his portrayal of director Zach, constantly telling those auditioning to stop performing, Horner never does. While he isn’t helped by the construct that sees his voice literally booming over the theatre, on stage and off Horner’s Zach is mannered, affected, and theatrical, with Horner never settling down into his part.
The auditioning company subsequently fair better. A Chorus Line ultimately has a bittersweet ending: the individuals who are selected have reached their goal, however their goal is to form a part of a homogenous line. 'One Singular Sensation': not a note, kick, head or hair out of place.
With a few notable exceptions, however it is unfortunate the cast of this production largely reaches its greatest heights as an ensemble. As individuals the players have their strengths but also their weaknesses; when they work as a group the power of the shared music and chorography elevates the performers and the production.
The night, however, is stolen by Euan Doidge as Paul, in a monologue on his acceptance of himself, and his parents’ acceptance of the man he would choose to be. In a subtle performance, Doidge nonetheless managed to hold the house in silence, his years of hidden ache spilling out into the theatre.
The text of the show (book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante) was built on conversations with actors working in New York City, and many of the actors who shared their stories went on to perform in the original 1975 production. Unusually for a musical, is in these book scenes where there is the greatest opportunity to connect to the characters, as you feel these are the closest to the true stories.
Time has dated the music very little. Marvin Hamlisch’s brassy composition flies well under Musical Director Paul White and the Adelaide Art Orchestra, and Edward Kleban’s lyrics are carried well by the cast, although some have stronger voices than others. Bennett's recreated chorography is one of the best keys we have to the company as individuals, as he uses both their indivdual movment, grasp and interpretation within the 1930s-stylled "traditional" movement, and the "modern" chorographed solos and group numbers to give us a foundation to the characters and the plot.
On opening night, the production’s biggest downfall was in the execution of the sound design (Simon Gregory). Individual microphones were not always turned on at the correct moment, and in large ensemble book scenes volumes were often pitched at different levels, an element which distracted from the text. During One, microphones were constantly knocked by the performers hats, the repeated scratching over the speaker system overriding music and voices.
In a production of this scale, amplification should preferably be unnoticeable and naturalistic (which this production is a long way off achieving), and at the very least it certainly shouldn’t detract from the play. Work is needed to ensure that when characters are speaking or singing they are always heard, that audiences are allowed to read the nuance in conversations through consistency in levels, and if the cast are to wear head mounted microphones their hats do not touch their heads.
Thirty-seven years on from its original production, A Chorus Line faithfully remains an eye into the Broadway ‘gypsies’ of the 1970s, people looking for another production to get them through. While it occasionally has moments of great heart, this production is largely a fun, light-hearted, and traditional night of musical theatre.
Adelaide Festival Centre in association with Tim Lawson presents
A CHORUS LINE
Venue: Festival Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 31 Dec 2011 – 28 Jan 2012
Tickets: $110.00 – $45.00
Bookings: bass.net.au | 131 246