This was my fourth time seeing this production of A Chorus Line in London, my fourteenth time since 1976. If you’d like to take a look at my review from February, it’s here, our visit in June is here, my trip with my Godson in July it’s here, or if you just want to hear about the last night, read on!
Let me take you back, gentle reader, to the last night of A Chorus Line at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in March 1979. A full house, naturally packed with fans, of course. The lights dimmed to signal the start of the show, which generated a huge round of applause that only died down once the show had started. Warm, loving rounds of applause followed each song as the show progressed. At the emotional culmination, when Diana, played by Miss Diane Langton, finished singing “What I Did For Love”, the applause was sustained, and sustained, and sustained… and Miss Langton was choking back the tears. In that 70s production, once the lights dimmed on the glitzily dressed performers doing the “One” finale, you never saw them again for a final curtain call; apart from on that last night, when the lights went back up again to reveal a cast who were a blancmange of tears, waves, shouts and every emotion under the sun.
Fast forward to the last night of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium on August 31st 2013. The same full house, the same plethora of fans, crackling with anticipation and the same big round of applause when it started. “God I hope I get it…” I have to mention again here the great, brief appearance of Georgie Ashford as Trisha, one of the early eliminees, giving it all she’s got with her wayward wacky dancing that’s hilarious but not cruel. The atmosphere in the audience, this feeling of “fan love” is just like 1979, I thought. Then something different happened. It was at that point near the end of the opening number when the cast all walk up to the front of the stage together, hold the resumés in front of their faces and the orchestra hits that funky, stabbing, portentous chord and they stay still for probably four chords, until Larry collects the CVs. Not this time. Massive applause drowns out the first four chords; then the second four chords. It’s not letting up for the next four chords. From my seat I can see Ashley Nottingham (Larry)’s face go boggle-eyed with delight at the reaction from the audience – the resumés hide everyone else’s faces so we can’t see them but you sense an overwhelming wave of “OMG”-ness is about to hit this stage.
The show continues. Harry Francis is playing Mike as the cockiest New York Italian, all slicked back hair and spilling over with machismo. Later in the show the girls either side of him accuse him of being a sex maniac, and whereas other Mikes have looked shocked and surprised at the news, this Mike just looks substantially chuffed! Whereas Adam Salter’s Mike thrilled us with his tumbling acrobatics, Mr Francis’ “I Can Do That” brings out the best of his ballet skills with a series of great fouettés. Cue for another sustained round of applause, so long that it’s about now that some of the performers, Mr Francis included, begin to look a little bit shocked.
Ed Currie’s performance as Bobby is just sheer bliss. His voice wanders up and down the vocal scale capturing Bobby’s weirdness and self-deprecation to perfection. Superb, and fully deserving of its own round of applause, which it duly receives. On to a beautiful performance of “At The Ballet”, with Leigh Zimmerman and Daisy Maywood on top form; and when Vicki Lee Taylor (Maggie)’s soaring yet serene top note gets a huge reaction she seems visibly moved. Another great performance of “Sing” follows, with Frances Dee’s Kristine just missing the notes with absolute conviction and credibility, and Simon Hardwick’s Al going all out to calm her down.
Michael Steedon gives Mark’s monologue great life and humour and he really revels in that discussion with the priest about gonorrhoea. Supersub Katy Hards performs Connie as a Southern States belle of Summer Stock, and her vocal drawl adds to a great reinterpretation of the role. I loved her reaction to Larry’s suggestion she should relax during the Tap Combination, with the result that she flops about the stage like a rag doll. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Diana)’s so excited that she’s going to the High School of Performing Arts and gives the most life-affirming rendition of “Nothing” which gets so much applause that she has no choice but to talk through it or we’d never get finished. I did appreciate her returning to Michael Bennett’s original choreography of “be a table, be a sports car, ice-cream cone” (one for the die-hard purists there!)
More superb characterisation follows with Andy Rees’ lugubrious Greg, James T Lane’s keen-as-mustard Richie and Lucy Jane Adcock’s deliriously dotty Judy. When the whole “Hello Twelve…” montage is complete, there is a sea of cheers and whoops that takes forever to die down and now some of the dancers are really beginning to look affected. I can see at least three faces on stage that appear to be saying to themselves “Don’t cry, whatever you do…”, and that’s just the guys. When you think this part of the show can’t get better, Rebecca Herszenhorn gives the best performance of “Dance Ten Looks Three” I’ve seen her give all year, turning Val into the truly ultimate sexpot.
I always sense that things get more serious once Cassie is called back for her one-to-one with Zach; you’re really into the meat of the show now. Scarlett Strallen gives an amazing “Music and the Mirror”, and when Zach recalls how she “stopped two shows cold”, you can just see how she did it. Her whole performance was brilliant – not just the dancing, but also her understanding of the role brought out the character’s humour, her introspection and anger; and you can really see how the break up of the relationship with the cold Zach, played with businesslike efficiency and eerie domination by Gary Watson, affected her deeply. Very long sustained applause and even some dotted standing ovations at Miss Strallen’s performance. Gary Wood takes to the stage and raises Paul’s monologue to new heights with fantastic changes of pace and terrific vocal light and shade. I felt I understood Paul so much more with this performance. Even though it’s not a musical number, the audience gave Mr Wood a great reaction once the scene was over. The next scenes: the rehearsal of One, the emotionally raw discussion between Cassie and Zach, and the comedy and tragedy of the Tap Combination were all performed with true heart and conviction.
There’s a lot of poignancy in some of those final scenes, particularly when the show is closing. Nothing runs forever, right? The only chorus line you can depend on this business is the one at un-em-ploy-ment! Lately I’ve been thinking of opening a dance studio – am I copping out or am I growing up? “But if today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” Cue gulps of emotion from both stage and audience. Miss Hamilton-Barritt delivers the true message of the show with “What I Did For Love” as tears run down the faces of her colleagues surrounding her. It soars, as it always does, when the chorus comes in, and she completes the song with all the emotional intensity of that final night, an intensity so strong that she has to give way to the tears immediately afterwards.
When Zach makes his final choice of four and four, Harry Francis turns his tears of emotion into tears of victory for Mike’s success, Ed Currie hides his face and Simon Hardwick simply crumples up with emotion. Naturally it was a full standing ovation for the finale, and for Scarlett Strallen and Leigh Zimmerman’s final messages of gratitude from the stage. Leigh Zimmerman really summed it up with her final words – “don’t cry that it’s ended, smile because it happened – it’s what we did for love.” The end of the line? For today, maybe, at the Palladium. But for anyone who’s been personally affected by this show, the memories, the emotions and the associations that have formed over the past seven months will remain.