A few months ago – on 23rd February to be precise – Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to see A Chorus Line at the Palladium. It was the first non-preview Saturday night. I loved it, as I knew I would, having loved it ever since as a slightly insecure 16 year old I sat, by myself, in Row C of the stalls at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and became instantly captivated by this life-enhancing show that taught me so much about, well, everything really. £5.50 that ticket cost me; I must have saved up for weeks. One of the best investments I ever made.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve kept the faith with this show basically all my life, seeing it not only in London, but also in Oxford, Sheffield and on Broadway. February’s trip was my 12th time of seeing it – and Mrs C’s 4th, bless her. She loves the show too – maybe not quite as fanatically as me. I guess we all have our own definition of “what I did for love”. Thanks to the kindness of a Third Party whom I shall not name – but if you’re reading this, thanks so much! – on Saturday we returned to see it again.
I’ve always been a “front stalls” man; that’s my default setting. But for this 13th viewing of A Chorus Line, we sat in the dress circle, and I’ve never seen the show from this angle before. It’s very impressive! It goes without saying that from the dress circle (Row B) you get a fantastic view of the entire stage. Even though you’re further back and you can’t see the sweat and the spit, there are other aspects of onstage activity that become more apparent. Specific elements of the dance; for example, Diana’s thumping tap moves, in an attempt to make some kind of noise with her sneakers, came across as really funny; and you could see that the accidental twist that results in an injury to one of the dancers was executed absolutely perfectly. The view also brought out the anxiety and buzz of the dancers mingling stage right, whilst they’re waiting for Larry to call them on to dance, or for Zach to choose them for his final seventeen. Absolute big up at this point to Georgie Ashford for a fabulous performance as Trisha during that first number. The resigned crestfallen looks from the dancers not chosen, somehow clearer from above, was something I had never really appreciated before.
If anything, the show is even better than three months ago. Everything flows so naturally and seamlessly. The voices are perfect, the dance moves stupendous. I’ve always loved Michael Bennett’s original choreography, it’s so eloquent yet subtle in comparison with Bob Fosse’s brash showmanship that most other people seemed to prefer at the time. Despite the fact that, as Cassie says, “they’re all special”, some roles are still seen as “starrier” than others and they’re all still sublimely performed. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt especially now really excels herself as Diana. She has taken the song “Nothing” and totally made it her own. With some quirky vocal expression and changes of pace she tells the story of that stupid course and the dreadful Mr Karp with such passion that we can see how that experience has strengthened Diana and shaped the way she copes with life’s problems today. Her “What I Did For Love” still hits home with its plaintive honesty and the whole cast’s backing singing is just superb – major goosebump time.
John Partridge continues to invest Zach with a humanity I’ve not seen in previous actors’ interpretations. His questioning technique of the dancers is rarely straightforward – at times he’s sly, provocative, humorous, compassionate, irate; and his questions in turn seem to elicit a more emotional response from the auditionee. His stage presence is just astounding, and he’s still loving that big number at the end. When Larry asks Sheila for her “I love to dance smile”, it’s Mr Partridge to whom they should look for inspiration.
As Cassie, I loved Scarlett Strallen’s heightened emotions when she and Zach are raking over the old coals of their former relationship; I’ve never heard a Cassie quite so outraged by Zach’s pig-headed selfishness. She’s got to keep on the right side of him because she wants the job, but there are some things she’s just not going to let him get away with! The two actors work together incredibly well in those scenes. And Leigh Zimmermann’s Sheila is still a brilliant portrayal of the slightly temperamental, definitely cynical, at heart vulnerable, brassy lady who knows there aren’t many years left that she can continue to be a chorus cutie. Her last look to Zach still speaks volumes.
The whole cast are superb, but I wanted to mention a few others that I didn’t talk about last time. There’s a terrifically solid and honest performance by Gary Watson as Don, who really brings his experience with Lola Latores and her twin forty-fours to life; it’s fun to imagine the two of them zooming off into the sunset in her pink Cadillac. I also loved the way he reacted to the final casting decision – absolutely right for that character. Ed Currie seems to have now really got to the heart of Bobby, “real weird” in that nerdy jumper, outrageously sending up the wackier aspects of his character but in an absolutely credible way. Frances Dee is a wonderfully out of tune Kristine, no pantomime character this but a real person who genuinely gets uptight through nerves; and Alastair Postlethwaite, who we thought would be destined for great things after seeing him in So You Think You Can Dance, is giving Larry a real character dimension; not just the assistant but someone who has to have a proper working relationship with Zach and with whom you sense he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye. Andy Rees is still a hugely entertaining Greg, and Harry Francis’ Mark – the character I always identified with when I was young – is a brilliant combination of youthful exuberance and awkward embarrassment. His dance skill is astonishing; you sense he could dance rings round the others given half a chance.
In the performance we saw, the role of Paul, in many ways the most sympathetic and moving role in the show, was played by Michael Steedon. Paul has a stunningly written monologue to perform, and every Paul plays it slightly differently, obviously drawing on the actor’s own insights and experience. Mr Steedon is absolutely one of the best. Beautifully paced, sincere; I know that speech like the back of my hand and still it brought tears to my eyes.
A funny thing happened halfway through the show – everything stopped! Judy had just confessed to kissing other girls as a rehearsal for when she wanted to start kissing guys when all the lights went out. Everything went silent; a little torch appeared at the sides of the stage and you heard the shuffle off of retreating dancers. Then, in a tone of immaculate calm, a disembodied voice announced that due to a technical issue they’d had to suspend the show and would get it going again as soon as possible. Well it’s not often that a number literally stops the show! I felt the lighting had gone awry in the “Mother” sequence beforehand; I don’t know if that was the cause. Anyway, for the first time, A Chorus Line actually had an interval! It was about ten minutes before they resumed the show, picking up precisely from where they had left off; and huge admiration to Andy Rees for getting straight back in with Greg’s “Hard” routine without a flicker of anything being wrong. That must have been quite nerve-racking.
One other observation about this production of A Chorus Line is that I really like the fact that we now get an additional curtain call at the end. It was always a source of frustration to the teenage me that the last we saw of the performers was when the lights faded on the high kicks at the end of “One” – you never really felt you were given the opportunity fully to express your appreciation. Apart from the very last night in 1979, that is, when the lights went back up at the end of the show to reveal a stage and auditorium full of weeping cast and aficionados. Now, once the lights have faded, the dancers remain on stage one more time for a proper curtain call. Result: satisfaction all round.
Going back to see it again has satisfied me that the cast are still looking after the show wonderfully well – it’s all in very safe hands. Trouble is, now I’m going to have to go yet again. I knew I’d have to!