“Is there anyone in it?” queried Andrew on the marathon trek from Palladium street entrance to stalls seat.
“Someone from Eastenders you won’t have heard of and a Strallen” replied Phil. “The one that was in Singin’ in the Rain“.
As long as there are tights to be worn, taps to be tapped and hooves to be hoofed there will be Strallens. Strallens are born to dance. No doubt they enter this world high-kicking in the default position of one leg at 85 degrees with a shapely calf pressed to the face.
The Whingers were, rather unusually, both quite looking forward to A Chorus Line (book James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante, lyrics Edward Kleban, music Marvin Hamlisch) although were a tad concerned that the show, so innovative in its day (not so far off 40 years ago) and receiving its first West End revival, might not have aged well, especially with its showbizzy American navel-gazing.
Phil had seen it once: the US touring production in the seventies when he was filling in time before his Greyhound bus departed a Chicago terminal at some ungodly hour. Andrew couldn’t remember if he’d seen it, although he believes he saw the film a couple of times. Surely once would have been quite enough for Richard Attenborough’s movie version?
But weighing up the evidence, the show features several pretty memorable songs, and has a Strallen- how bad could it be?
There are no obvious attempts to update things here. Bob Avian one of the original co-choreographers directs (at the tender age of 75, a slip of a lad when you think that Gillian Lynne’s still at it), Baayork Lee (Connie in the original cast) is re-staging the choreography and Theoni V. Aldredge (costumes) and Tharon Musser (lighting, adapted here by Natasha Katz) from the original production are credited for their designs. Plus there’s Robin Wagner‘s original sleekly basic black box set (with a few twirly mirrors at the back). Even the original poster is referenced with the same type face and photo of the chorus lined up (from behind rather than facing front). Well, that’s exhausted the word ‘original’ then.
But rather than saying, “Move along please, nothing new to see here” we can happily report that it’s not bad at all. In fact we left nodding approvingly.
What audiences who come to the vast space that is the Palladium and sit near the back expecting spectacle will make of it all is anyone’s guess. Thankfully the Whingers were up front (front row day seats £19.50) and and from their position you could appreciate the individual performances of dancers playing dancers desperately auditioning for a Broadway show. Whoever cast it should pat themselves on the back. There isn’t a weak link in the line-up.
Who will be selected for the 8 places in the show and who won’t? The fact that we teetered on the edge of caring who gets a job and who doesn’t get selected adds tension. Each dancer is asked to tell their back story by the director Zach (John Partridge) and
show off seize their moment in the spotlight. Sob stories abound. X Factor has been around longer than we thought.
It’s probably unfair to single anyone out but Scarlet Strallen‘s Cassie is one of the showier parts. She acts her part movingly but she’s also required to show all her emotions and how much she needs the part to her ex-lover Zach (he believes that since she’s being doing featured roles previously she’s too good for chorus work) through the medium of dance. Strallen throws herself into it most spectacularly but its the only moment the show shows its age and is as “of its time” as the over-extended ballet sequence in Carousel.
Whenever the show looks like it might slip into mawkishness it usually pulls itself back from the brink with humour. The wonderful Leigh Zimmerman is the deliciously dry, seen-it-all, Sheila with more than a touch of Patsy Stone and is on the higher end of the age spectrum for chorus work. Victoria Hamilton-Barrit’s Diana makes an impact and also gets the big 11 o’clock ballad (as they say on the Broadway) “What I Did for Love”. Though since the show runs 2 hours without interval it arrived at the more Whinger-friendly hour of 9.30 pm.
When we finally see the chorus, now anonymously identical in gold top hat and tails, performing the earworm song of the night “One”, you wonder just what kind of a show they were actually auditioning for. It looks curiously dated even for 1975. But maybe that’s the point. But dated suits us fine; it looks like just the kind of show we’d happily go and see.
The choreography is impeccably tight and the lighting is especially effective. And it’s good to see that even way back in 1975 gay characters were portrayed not just for a cheap laugh like many shows currently in the West End. Of course, this is set in the days when practically everyone in the chorus line was gay.
How they’re going to fill the massive Palladium with something that is really a long whinge about how tough the world of showbiz is and holds that particularly tricky dancer’s pose of putting its head between its legs and staring into the abyss of its own fundament is anyone’s guess. There’s no set to speak of, little in the way of costumes until the finale and no big names for the coach parties. If you’re coming to see the only TV ‘star’, you won’t see that much of him, he spends much of the show off stage shouting directions from somewhere. The back of the stalls? His dressing room? The pub? Who knows?
Despite all that, we really enjoyed it and were surprised how well it’s stood the test of time.
Anyhoo, our enthusiasm has led us to go a little overboard and we have created a new rating device for shows that feature a Strallen.
Phil was sufficiently enthused into contemplating awarding a 5, but Andrew was adamant that it’s a 4. But then, as A Chorus Line points out, showbiz is a harsh mistress eh.