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A Chorus Line, London Palladium | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

A Chorus Line, London Palladium

Thrilling return for the 1970s Broadway masterpiece

Ensemble is everything: A Chorus Line glittersManuel Harlan

Even singular sensations grow older - yet A Chorus Line, which coined the phrase, seems ageless, so sure is it of its place in musical theatre history, so locked now into our theatrical consciousness. It is, no question, a wonderful show whose fabric of book (James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante), music (Marvin Hamlisch) and lyrics (Edward Kleban) is seamless and, more importantly, whose vision - as originated by choreographer/director Michael Bennett - has achieved a kind of immortality.

Bob Avian, who assisted on the original staging back in 1975, is now the show's guardian and watching this timely London revival, imaginatively cast and wholeheartedly delivered, you realise that it isn't just nostalgia that faithfully reproduces it exactly as some of us remember from 1976 but the indisputable fact that as stagings go it's pretty damn perfect. You don't dare touch a hair on its well-groomed head; nips, tucks, and facelifts don't even bear thinking about.

There's no business either that celebrates the heartache like this business does

So we will always be - as it says above the blacked-out stage - in that time, 1975, and that place, a Broadway Theatre. And we'll always get the same buzz when the lights come up on a stage full of dancers in rehearsal clothes (circa 1970s) and the same jolt when the rehearsal piano bows out and the band kicks in. I know it was a first night, but I reckon the Palladium will explode every night when that happens. But there's something else, too. There's no business like show business, they still tell us, but no business either that celebrates the rejection, the humiliation, the heartache like this business does.

A Chorus Line is that weird thing: a bleak show that lifts the spirits of anyone who has ever yearned for their moment in the spotlight and even those of us who merely watch. And as the survivors of the first cull find their place behind that quite literal line on the stage between us and them, we stop thinking how convenient it is that all life is here - all shapes, sizes, and personalities - and simply buy into the whole joyously joyless experience.

The intricacy of the staging is breathtaking, the choreographic thrills many and varied - most notably the seemingly unstoppable crescendo of the Montage "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen", a classic of the modern day musical. Again and again we are taken in and out of the dancers' heads always to return to their place behind that line.

When Paul, the elegant gay boy with a woman's sensibility (the excellent Gary Wood) is injured at the very point of likely securing his place in the show the line reforms but, heartbreakingly, with a gap where he once stood. Like all great musicals, a few of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban's terrific point numbers would be inexplicable, even unremarkable, out of the context of the show - but there's one remarkable song, "At the Ballet", which is the essence of the show and encapsulates the need that so many performers have to escape reality. (Pictured below, James T Lane as Richie)

Ensemble is everything in A Chorus Line and this London cast deliver on so many levels. Of course, some characters will always stand out from the crowd: the tall, imperious, and super-laconic Sheila of Leigh Zimmerman, the feisty Diana of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who pretty much nails the song about theatrical pretension, "Nothing", and Scarlet Strallen's terrifically committed and wonderfully danced Cassie, the featured dancer who never quite made stardom and whose failed affair with John Partridge's authoritative Zach, the director, almost deprives her of the job she so badly needs. No matter how many times you see it, when curved mirrors descend for her big (and how) showstopper "The Music and the Mirror", the multiplication of her fluid form in that iconic scarlet (how apt) dress will always set the pulse racing.

Towards the end of the show when one of the characters says ruefully "Nothing runs forever", you're thinking - wrong, A Chorus Line will.

  • A Chorus Line at the London Palladium is currently booking until 13 July
The intricacy of the staging is breathtaking, the choreographic thrills many and varied

rating

5

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Comments

Having seen the original show

Having seen the original show twice in 1975, nothing was going to stop me seeing its revival at the London Palladium. And I was as moved today by it all as I was back in 1975. Go see it folks, you will be thrilled! It's difficult to understand 'Peter H's' many criticisms. Does he go into a show blind, as it appears he must? Has he no ear for music? No eye for dance? No romance in his soul? No appreciation of 'spectacle'? He tells us he kept looking at his watch, but not whether he'd been glued into his seat. And to complain about not seeing the dancers' feet when one can so easily look up the seating layout, or ask questions of the management, is nothing short of ridiculous. Did he HAVE to stay in row 3 of the stalls when, according to him, the auditorium was one-third empty?

Don't be dumb. The reason why

Don't be dumb. The reason why the auditorium was 1/3rd empty was that the upper circle was closed and those who had booked there were shifted downstairs. Glued to my seat? No, bored stiff. And how can one look up a seating layout? Does a theatre say openly that a certain percentage of its overpriced seats are crap? No.

I have to say I disagree with

I have to say I disagree with much of this. The show struck me as old-fashioned, sentimental, sloppy and far too long. It may have been shocking for 1976/7 audiences to find out that some male members of a chorus line might actually be, wow, wait for the shock, homosexual, but it's hardly news now. I found myself looking longingly at my watch on several occasions, wondering how many more boring revelations about clichéd and stereotypical characters I would have to hear. The dancing was repetitive, the music unmemorable and I found the deafening amplication of the Zach character's disembodied voice infuriating. One last point: I was in row 3 of the stalls and could see nothing of the dancers' feet. I assume that applied to the audience in the front 2 rows too. What sort of stage designer disrespects his paying audience like that in a song and dance show? The auditorium on the performance I saw was 1/3rd empty - even selling off seats at £19.50 hadn't sold out. I honestly can't see this one running for very long.

Ignore the comments of the

Ignore the comments of the wet blanket that is 'Peter H' and go and see this fantastic production at the London Palladium. It's as good today as it was back in 1975 - in joy, spectacle, music, and song and dance.

You really do talk rubbish.

You really do talk rubbish. Are you employed by the theatre to try and rescue a serious flop? I think so.

No, no!! This is a fantastic

No, no!! This is a fantastic uplifting show totally of its time. I loved it and my musical sceptic husband really enjoyed it too. Go see!

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