By Claire Naik
A Chorus Line has opened in the West End after a very long absence – the last London production was in 1976.
A Chorus Line, which debuted in New York in 1975, became the longest running show on Broadway until surpassed by Cats in 1997. It has been nominated for and won numerous awards and accolades and remains for many one of the all-time great musicals.
The idea for the show was born out of workshops in New York run by choreographers for Broadway dancers. Michael Bennett both directed and choreographed the first production which is set around seventeen dancers auditioning in what for many may be their last job. We hear each individual dancer’s story through their audition piece with the staging of the show helping us to further immerse ourselves into the audition process. The creative team purposely leave the stage bare, a solitary white line for the dancers to stand on and some mirrors behind them which cleverly reflect the audience back to themselves.
What unfolds has not dated and is still a truthful, funny and sometimes touching window into the lives of dancers. Lives which are so often plagued by self-doubt and paranoia but these emotions are overwhelmed by the sheer love for what they do. They are all aware that their careers can be over in a heartbeat, whether from injury like the character Paul San Marco (Gary Wood) the Puerto Rican with a troubled child hood or old age as with Sheila Bryant (Leigh Zimmerman) the mature dancer in the group.
John Partridge (best known as Christian from EastEnders) takes on the all singing all dancing role of Zach, the Director who we see intermittently but hear more often as a voice in the auditorium. Not having seen the show on stage before my only experience of Zach was Michael Douglas cast in the 1985 film version, Douglas does not sing or dance in the film (Richard Attenborough who directed obviously knew to play to Douglas’s strengths which we can only imagine are not in song or dance). Partridge however is a consummate all-rounder belting out the songs and effortlessly executing the dance routines.
Another standout performance comes from Victoria Hamilton Barritt who plays Diana Morales, like Paul a Puerto Rican whose powerful performance of “What I did for Love” sends waves of emotion through the audience who indeed laughed, cried and spontaneously showed their appreciation continuously throughout the show.
The show’s big number is ‘One’ which does not disappoint; younger audiences may recognise this from Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy. As each dancer emerges from the wings, all teeth and projection, we want to be down on that stage with them top hat in hand and not wanting this audition to end.
So grab your fishnets and sequins and high kick your way to the Palladium as A Chorus Line is back exactly where it belongs, in the West End, and packing them in.