Forgive me Father for I have sinned; it’s been seven weeks since my last visit to A Chorus Line. All those excited #ACLoholic tweets crossing back and forth cyberspace were making me jealous, but I knew I was pushing my luck suggesting yet another trip with Mrs Chrisparkle. It’s not that she doesn’t love it – it’s just that she has a more balanced (i.e sane) outlook than me. Thus it was that yesterday I went to the matinee with my 16 year old Godson, Bad Wolf (it’s his twitter name, who am I to judge?)
Love for A Chorus Line was instilled in him through the placenta as his mother adores the show; she was introduced to it by her husband who, as a teenager, saw it with me four times during its run at Drury Lane. As Bad Wolf and I enjoyed our pre-theatre lunch in Bella Italia across the street from the Palladium, I asked, “so, are you looking forward to the show then?” He eyed me with teenage derision. “It’s A Chorus Line, isn’t it?” Then he shrugged his shoulders with that “don’t you know anything” look. I took that to mean, “yes I’m looking forward to it enormously Chris and thank you very much for treating me to this nice lunch.”
If you’re looking for an impartial, balanced review of A Chorus Line then I’m afraid you won’t find it here. If you check back on my blogs of our February and June visits, you’ll see how deeply rooted this show is in my soul, and if I were to pick away at any perceived structural flaws, self-indulgent aspects or character criticisms, then I might as well tear my own arm off. And I’m not going to do that. Trust me when I say it is the American Musical Supreme, but more than that, it’s an examination – nay celebration – of vulnerable people under pressure coming to terms with their careers, their relationships, their pasts, their futures, their lives. Add in Marvin Hamlisch’s incredible score, Michael Bennett’s exhilarating choreography and the cast’s superb talent and you’ve got an unforgettable work of theatrical art to cherish.
But sadly, it’s going to close early. A few weeks ago, Mrs C and I took a sneaky week’s Mediterranean cruise, and we were discussing theatre with our dining companions one evening, when I mentioned how fond I was of A Chorus Line. “Ach,” said our softly spoken Scottish friend, “it’s closin’ earrrly ‘cos apparently it’s no’ verry guid”. The poor woman didn’t know what had hit her. “Au contraire, it’s brilliant”, I remonstrated swiftly and sternly; “it’s a fantastic revival, probably better than the original. The main problem is the Palladium is such a huge theatre, and there’s not a lot of money out there at the moment. It’s just another sign of the times, Miss Jones.” I’m not sure she got my Blood Brothers reference.
So when Bad Wolf and I emerged into the stalls on Wednesday afternoon I was half-expecting the place to be empty. Not a bit of it. The centre stalls block appeared to be fully booked, the side stalls were reasonably full and from what I could see the Royal Circle was packed too. Being a midweek matinee, Pensioner Power was out in force; and, without for a moment suggesting any blanket attributes to a sector of the community, there was an awful lot of sweet paper rustling and low-level chit-chat throughout the afternoon. How fondly I recall the happy days of the mid-70s when well-to-do elderly ladies came to the Drury Lane to see that “nice” musical A Chorus Line, and spent the evening tutting with disgust at mentions of tits, ass, gonorrhoea, “I’d be hard” and “I looked like a f***ing nurse”. Today they seem to take that in their stride, if they can hear the words above the chewing clacking dentures.
Every performance of Chorus Line is different – cast members change emphases, cover performers do it slightly differently, audience reactions very enormously. When we saw it in June I was amazed that, at the moment when the lights dim at the end of the show, Zach having chosen his successful 8-strong chorus, there was no round of applause. Silence. Incredible! Never seen that before. Not so on Wednesday, when that moment (rightly) got a big round of applause – as it nearly always does. However, then, when the individual cast members come out and take their initial personal bow before going into the big “One” routine, the whole audience clapped along regularly to the rhythm of the tune, somewhat panto-esque, rather than just clapping each performer. I’ve never experienced that before either.
This audience also reacted well to the show’s “gasp” moments. The main one is during that final elimination scene when Diana gets called forward and then Zach says “I’m wrong, back in line”. That got a great gasp. But there was also a very appreciative gasp at the tumbling sequence in Adam Salter’s absolutely spot-on performance of “I Can Do That”; and also during that wonderful glitzy performance of “One” just before the final chorus – that really high visual impact moment when the lights strengthen and line is in full view at the back of the stage – it was just superb.
It’s always so satisfying to see my favourite show in such capable and responsible hands. I have now seen many of the performers play their roles for a third time and they are so comfortable in those characters’ skins. I’ve already mentioned Adam Salter’s Mike, a really engaging performance of a character who is only lightly fleshed out in the text, but who, despite having the most self-confident dance routine has this surprising underlying anxiety (“I’d like to tell you to start at the end”). Ed Currie’s Bobby is now about as good as it gets, revealing the character’s quirkiness and complete shamelessness. When he’s talking about the kid whom he spray-painted and had to be taken to hospital, you got an increased insight into the weirdness of what he did by some subtle hand gestures – I’m guessing it wasn’t just the soles of his feet that were involved. And hat’s off to him for playing the role in that jumper on one of the hottest days of the year. Bobby really is quite a weirdo in many ways, and I think he might terrify you in real life, but Mr Currie gives the character so much warmth that it’s a delight to witness.
When Bad Wolf and I were talking about the show beforehand, we both agreed that “Sing” is probably our least favourite number, because of its potential to irritate; just slightly. But it occurred to me whilst watching it, that it must be extraordinarily demanding for its performers. You need the verbal dexterity of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, coupled with immaculate comedy timing and, from Kristine, the ability to sing credibly off-key. Frances Dee plays Kristine with superb control and it’s wonderful to watch. We don’t know much about Kristine and Al apart from the little secrets they reveal during “Hello Twelve…” Al’s enigmatic “Dad would take Mum to Roseland, she’d come home with her shoes in her hand” is one of the most evocative lines in the show and you never really quite know what to make of it. Simon Hardwick gives the character real substance by superbly contrasting the more private and thoughtful aspects of Al with his macho Bronx façade – great stuff.
Harry Francis is still marvellous as the young Mark, trying so hard to make a good impression, the perfect blend of exuberance and embarrassment; and I still can’t get over what a great dancer he is. Even Bad Wolf spoke highly of his skills. Daisy Maywood is now a real revelation as Bebe. She performed At The Ballet with more emotion in that role than I have ever seen. It was such a thoughtful and reflective account of Bebe’s relationship with her mother – I got a sense that this Bebe was really wounded by her family life and that the scars haven’t healed yet. And I’m still loving Gary Watson’s Don recollecting his youthful experience with Lola Latores – when she drives up in her big pink Cadillac convertible and smiles you just can’t help smiling along with him. Supersub Michael Steedon was playing Paul at this performance – we’d seen him on our previous visit and he really impressed me. This time he was a complete star. It’s such a skilful performance of Paul’s monologue; assertive, clear, brave, proud – but when he breaks down at the end, the contrast is so strong and moving that, again, I got the tears, dammit. And I was additionally moved by the little shriek of sudden pain that accompanied Paul’s fall – something that’s normally done silently – that made it all the more realistic.
It was the first time I’d seen Jon Tsouras as Greg – he’s normally the boy with the headband who refuses to look up. Andy Rees, who normally plays Greg, is absolutely brilliant in the role; but Mr Tsouras puts a fascinatingly different slant on some of Greg’s material. His Greg is very honest, perhaps less of a show-off than others I have seen, and his account of feeling Sally Ketchum’s boobs was laugh-out-loud convincing. This is a very realistic, less bravado-fuelled, more insightful Greg and I really enjoyed his performance. This was also the first time I’ve seen Katy Hards as Diana. A demanding role, I particularly enjoyed her performance of Nothing, which was both funny and moving in all the right places. And, I’m not sure, but I think it was Genevieve Nicole who was playing Vicki, one of the characters to be eliminated early; her unruly dance steps were hilarious!
The big guns are still going great as well – John Partridge’s Zach was having a slightly more belligerent day, he wasn’t going to let anyone get away with anything. It’s down step, pivot step, not pivot step, pivot step for chrissake! He plays the role with so much conviction and attack, that even just hearing his voice from the back of the auditorium it’s one of the best acting performances you’ll ever be lucky enough to experience. He can invest the word “relax” with unnerving overtones – it could almost be the last words you hear before the Sinister Doctor Zach administers your fatal drug overdose. His sparring with Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie was on absolutely top form, and of course he completely shines in the finale. Miss Strallen was mesmerising in The Music and The Mirror, as usual, and I love the way she copes with Zach and their past relationship; the agony of the memory chokes her voice up and her pain is palpable.
Honestly, what’s not to love? As Harold Hobson said in the Sunday Times in 1975, it’s a rare, devastating, joyous, astonishing stunner and I can’t see any reason to change that opinion. Funny, sad and human to its core and I’m honoured to have seen it again. You’ve got until 31st August to see it too.