14 February 2012

Review: A Chorus Line

A Chorus Line
Tim Lawson
7 February 2012
Her Majesty's Theatre
to 10 March

1975's A Chorus Line is one of my favourite shows. I can sing along to every number, I blubbed during Every Little Step, the 2006 documentary about its Broadway revival, and I'm happy to admit that I love the often-knocked 1985 film version. After all, this is the musical that won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and it took Cats to knock it off the longest-running Broadway show pedestal. It oozes heart and passion and guts and is for everyone who has worked so hard to get what they want and still missed out.

On an empty Broadway stage, a cattle call audition is down to 17; there are only eight spots to fill. Rather than keep dancing, the director asks the dancers to stop performing and tell him something about themselves, and he has to deal with having an ex-lover in the line.

This touring production is the first professional Line in Australia since 1993, so the first time for many to experience why this show is so loved. Like all professional Lines, it's pretty much what was seen in 1975 with the same design and the original production's direction and choreography has been restaged by Baayork Lee (the first Connie).  It's a warm nostalgic connection knowing that 37 years later, we're sharing the same show.

One reason I like seeing shows during a run and not on opening night is to feel how a paying audience responds; and the response on the night I went was, "Meh". Forget what reviewers and friends say, the best way to see how a performance is working is to sit in the audience.

So why isn't this show leaving us stomping and crying and booking return tickets? The story remains beautiful, the characters are still so real that we know them and the chorey feels a bit 70s but is still some of the best around.  With such a young cast, there's a lack of experience, but there's no questioning why anyone was cast. There are moments of imperfect singing, too-performed lines and counting steps, but that's part of live theatre.

What's missing is that spark of originality that transforms a show from a good copy of another production to something that has it's own life and soul. It feels like it's trying so hard to be A Chorus Line that the unique and subtle connections to character and the wholeness of story are getting lost, leaving it feeling too much like a concert version of the show.

This was especially obvious in the climax; the selection of the cast. This is the moment when half the characters have their hearts and dreams broken and the other half get what they want. By now, each member of the audience should know these people and cheer and break with their favourites. But it was was such a flat moment that only picked up energy for the dancing finale. And, I would have chosen differently.  A Chorus Line soars when the chosen eight are the ones who deserve it the MOST; no matter how wonderful the others are.

The Melbourne season has just been extended, so there are plenty of people who want to see this wonderful show. I hope that each run will help it to pick up the depth that it needs because everyone in it and everyone who sees it deserves so much more than "Meh".

This review appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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