In January 1974, a group of Broadway dancers arranged to get together (with a few casks of wine and fortunately, a tape recorder) to discuss, amongst other things, forming a dancer's company. Even more fortunately, Michael Bennett was invited along, primarily to observe the discussions. He, however, saw something more emerging, took control, and asked the dancers to talk more about themselves. Who they were. How they got to be there. And why be a dancer.
Out of these taped sessions, a series of workshops developed that culminated in an off-Broadway opening in April 1975. Word of mouth within the Broadway community was so strong that the entire season sold out immediately. The show transferred to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway where it opened in July 1975 (under the direction of Michael Bennett and including eight of the original dancers from the sessions). A Chorus Line went on to become the longest running show in Broadway history (finally closing in 1990), won numerous awards, including nine Tony's and eventually, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Inspired by a recent Broadway revival, and the public's fascination with television dance shows (Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance), the producers have decided that perhaps the time is right to bring this iconic show to newer and younger audiences in Australia (the last professional production in Australia was in the early 90s).
On the whole, this production, under the direction of Baayork Lee (who was Connie in the original Broadway company – the role was based on her), succeeds very well. Recreating Bennett's and Bob Avian's co-direction and choreography, the show is very much alive, with some amazing, athletic choreography and some truly touching, and often funny moments.
A Chorus Line is set entirely on an empty stage where a number of dancers are auditioning for the next Broadway show (I Hope I Get It). After trying different combinations of a set routine, the number is reduced to 17. These 17 dancers are then put through a tougher audition process that requires them to talk about themselves, dance as a group without drawing focus, and eventually be selected for the eight available spots in the show.
It is when these dancers reveal themselves that the show comes alive. From the incredible (and lengthy) montage Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love about teen angst and growing up, to the beautiful and touching At the Ballet and to the humourous Sing! and I Can Do That, most performers are given moments to shine.
Even though this is essentially an ensemble piece, some characters have the opportunity to make stronger impressions and lead to some fine performances, most notably Anita Louise Combe as Cassie, who makes an impassioned plea to return to the chorus (The Music and the Mirror), so that she can work, Debora Krizak as the tough and sometimes bitchy Sheila, and Karlee Misipeka as Diana, who sees through the nonsense of some acting classes (Nothing) and eventually sums up the reason why they are all there (What I Did For Love).
There are, however, some performers who do not quite hit the mark, and at times, the requirement to dance, act and sing well proves challenging for some. This production, however, leaves one feeling very satisfied.
A Chorus Line is a musical still set a few decades ago (even though the year may not be mentioned, numerous references give this away). If you can get beyond this, you will find a show that still amazes (watch the documentary Every Little Step, which incorporates some of the original taped sessions) as to how a series of monologues and dialogue could be chisseled into one of the finest musicals to emerge from the Broadway stage. And as the original cast recording liner notes states: This show is dedicated to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step...anywhere.
A Chorus Line remains ... one singular sensation!
A CHORUS LINE
book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante | music by Marvin Hamlisch | lyrics by Edward Kleban
Director Baayork Lee
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: from 4 February, 2012
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012