(My apologies for the lack of photos. Wordpress apparently hates my iPhoto right now.)
This West End revival of the iconic musical A Chorus Line, directed by Bob Avian (co-choreographer of the original Broadway production), suffered from some unusual lighting and staging choices that alienated the audience from the performers and almost dehumanised the characters–but maybe that was the point. In any case, the beautiful simplicity and heartfelt sentiment of the show came through, and left me at least with nothing but pride for what it means to dedicate oneself to the theatre.
It was press night (official opening night after previews), and the crowd was nothing if not exuberant. Much of the first half of the show, in fact, became to some degree a battle of the wills between an audience determined to applaud at every possible opportunity and the ghost of the composer, who wrote 20-minute-long song sequences with no breaks to credit the performers.
After a powerful and true-to-reality opening number in the form of a dance audition, however, the dictatorial director Zach (John Partridge) exits the stage and speaks for almost the entire remainder of the show from a microphone offstage that then projects his disembodied voice throughout the theatre. The lighting likewise grows ever less realistic, following each speaker or dancer with a spotlight or bizarre combination of colours that eliminate any sense of still being in that simple dance studio space. Instead, especially from the balcony cheap seats, there was a sense of watching inhuman organisms through a microscope, only interesting for what facts we could discover about them during each number.
By the time we get to Cassie’s (Scarlett Strallen) solo number, ‘The Music and the Mirror,’ it becomes clear that what we are experiencing is Zach’s megalomania in action, as we witness him force the powerless auditionees to enact his existential crisis over what it means to be a theatre artist, knowing that your career can never last forever. It is in that moment, when Zach asks the dancers what they would do if today was their last day to dance, that the humanity of the dancers finally shines through.
In a show like A Chorus Line, it seems almost antithetical to single out the performances of specific actors. There were, however, a few who stood out beyond the rest: Gary Wood as Paul performs an extraordinarily moving monologue about his family’s surprising acceptance of his sexuality and choice of career. Strallen’s dance solo is not the polished performance of a career dancer but an unfocused explosion of movement of someone determined to express herself through dance. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt gives first a fun and endearing rendition of ‘Nothing’ and then later the ballad that sold me the entire show, ‘What I Did for Love.’
There is something about A Chorus Line that I don’t think anyone can really understand until you commit yourself completely to a life in the theatre, knowing that you can never make money off of it and it can never last forever. The show is an affirmation of that life choice, of why we do what we do, the importance of that love and the community that comes along with it. And given all of that, perhaps the highlight of the entire show was, on the way out, overhearing an older lady teasing an usher whom she caught singing along.
General Life Updates: Sorry for not posting for a while. It’s Reading Week, which means we get a week off classes to write our midterm papers, plus I’ve been fighting off a rather nasty cold, so if I tried to write anything I probably would have just whined about being sick and miserable. I’m feeling much better now, though, I only have one of my four papers left to do, and rehearsals for my show are going really well. It looks like the play is going up March 3, and I should be able to get a video recording of it for all of you back home who want to see it. More updates soon!