This multi-award-winning musical first saw the light of day in 1975 on Broadway and ran for over 6,000 performances. And in 1976, it was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and won 9 of them. It also won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the same year. This production is directed by the original co-choreographer, Bob Avian, and the choreography here is re-staged by one of the original cast members, Baayork Lee.
The concept is one of those really neat, simple yet incredibly clever ideas that most writers would kill for. It is basically an audition for an upcoming show. A hoard of more than 20 dancers are being put through their paces by the director, Zach, who has to select a mere handful of them to be in the final line-up. After just a few minutes, a number are given the boot, and the rest have to endure the agony of the remainder of the audition. And that involves the dancers lining up along the front of the stage and telling Zach about themselves. This gives us a glimpse into the motivations and ambitions of these young dancers as well as their varied backgrounds and life-experiences, as one-by-one they step out from the line to tell Zach just who and what they are. We learn about their childhoods, the reasons they became dancers, the struggles they have faced to make it in a cruelly hard and unforgiving industry where many are called, but few are chosen and careers can be terminated early through injury, or simply being unable to secure work. What makes the concept endearing is that we can empathise with their situations. In effect, we have all been where they are. Like them, we have had our hopes dashed, failed to get jobs we wanted desperately, had our lives torn apart by tragedies, had to struggle to grow-up and find our true identities. In other words, our lives are mirrored in the dancers' experiences.
Apart from a white line on the stage on which the dancers line-up, there is little else in the way of a set. A bare stage with some large mirrors at the back are all we see apart from a few more mirrors which fly-in for one number. The lighting is appropriately sparse and highlights the vulnerability of the dancers as they wrestle with their nerves to relate their personal stories. The singing and dancing is uniformly superb, and the characterisations are authentic and believable.
What makes great music is highly subjective, of course. One man's meat is definitely another’s poison. But for me Marvin Hamlisch's score is music which ought really to be spelt as 'CLASS'. It is stunningly good, with that kind of underlying emotional quality which has the hairs on the back of your head standing-up, and sends tingles speeding down your spine. There is great variety in the score and a fine orchestra under the direction of Alan Williams delivers the sumptuous and moving orchestrations flawlessly. You won't feel let down by the choreography. When the whole ensemble dance together, an almost tangible electrical buzz races round the auditorium. And the smaller ensembles and solo performances work equally well. Scarlett Strallen enjoyed a particularly warm and lengthy reception from the audience for her solo dance as Cassie. The singing is first-rate and the acting has a natural, unrefined quality to it which suits the plot and situation perfectly. It makes it hard not to be drawn-in to the lives of these young people.
Two things spoil the show a little for me. First, the glitzy finale is rather predictable, but maybe it is unavoidable given the nature of the show. And the relationship between Cassie and Zach is contrived, even if she is desperate to get back to work in a chorus line. Those, however, are very minor gripes. In every other respect this is a terrific show, and with massive critical and popular success already behind it, 'A Chorus Line' should be set fair for a very lengthy run at the Palladium.
"The startling simplicity of the show still impresses...The show suggests that theatre is both a metaphor for life and a way of escaping it, and there is something genuinely moving about the way it gives an individual voice to performers who are normally just part of an anonymous ensemble. "
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"There is tremendous artistry in A Chorus Line and an admirable seriousness."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Lovingly recreated...The splendid (largely British) cast have made a sizzling connection with the show's timeless spirit of dedication to one's art through thick and thin and project it with exhilarating flair and force. "
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It’s a tight and entertaining celebration of physicality — and of life. "
Henry Hitchings for Evening Standard
"An excellent show. "
Michael Billington for The Guardian