Wednesday 27 February 2013

A Chorus Line @ The London Palladium

The premise behind A Chorus Line is a fine one: giving voice to the faceless members of Broadway chorus ensembles.  It is perhaps this focus on humanity, rather than fantasy, that has ensured the endurance of the show.  But does it live up to its premise? 

There’s only so much that can be done with seventeen dancers stood on the titular line, but the show presents a snapshot of each dancer, drifting between the reality of the audition experience and nostalgic dreamscapes.  This is aided by some spectacular lighting that cleverly utilizes spotlights and colour to delineate time and space, as well as an intimate sense of voyeurism as the audience are given a behind-the-scenes view of the audition in process.  Yet whilst Hamlisch’s score cleverly summarises Broadway traditions, the endless repetitions of dance steps and numbers becomes tiresome – ‘One’(in both rehearsal and performance mode) is enough to drive any audience insane.

One of the problems with A Chorus Line is that it is a show for dancers about dancers.  As expected, the original choreography utilised here is thrilling and the quality of dance is exceptional, every dancer performing in tight unison with every kick, flick, turn and point.  It’s rare, however, to find a cast of true ‘triple threats’.  Something must suffer along the way and, sadly, it’s the singing that takes the hit in this production.  Being such a Broadway-jazz hands affair, the singing is nasal and often a little screechy.  There is strength in numbers, with harmonies well blended together, but solo sections in ‘At The Ballet’, for example, didn’t quite hit the mark.  When the dancing is so accomplished, any negative points are only more prominent.

There’s also an imbalance between the different parts, with some receiving far more stage time than others.  As such, rather than revealing the humanity of these characters, many are reduced to two-dimensional caricatures.  There are some clear stars amongst the ensemble though.  Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie is the obvious example – a failed Hollywood actress seeking to start over.  Her solo piece, ‘The Music And The Mirror’, is meant to be a virtuosic display but, despite some technically proficient dancing and great use of mirrors, Strallen lacks sex appeal in the raunchy instrumental, leaving the number falling a little flat.  Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s Diana, meanwhile, strutted around the stage embodying Bronx swagger and sang ‘Nothing’ and ‘What I Did For Love’ with aplomb.  As the most famous of the cast members, John Partridge is also an obvious standout and, although he spends much of the show as Zach’s disembodied voice in the audience, his occasional on-stage persona was well realised.

A Chorus Line does show the darker side of the Broadway stage – the bitchiness and competitive nature of auditions; the instability of regular employment; falling from grace; and, in the case of Paul, paedophilia and sexuality.  The latter is presented through an extended monologue in a credible performance from Gary Wood, holding the audience captivated with simply words and a spotlight.  In such a dance heavy show, it’s ironic that its most arresting moment contains no dance at all.  The show is set in 1975 and, with the use of seventies costumes, risks becoming an old-fashioned period piece.  Yet the issues the show tackles are still relevant today – another reason for the show’s long-running success.

Together, the ensemble truly represent a unified singular sensation.  However, in a show striving to highlight the individuality of its performers, it’s an inherent irony of the production that they’re at their best when performing spectacularly as a single chorus.