Marvin Hamlisch’s 1975 musical about a group of dancers auditioning for an unnamed Broadway show is – like the late Hamlisch himself – one of the all-time greats. And to all intents and purposes and insofar as is possible, this revival is that 1975 production. Directed by original choreographer Bob Avian, this ‘Chorus Line’ shares everything bar a cast with its predecessor, from stark set design to striking lack of an interval to the antediluvian leotards sported by the cast’s female members.
The trouble is that in recent times, audition-centric reality TV shows like ‘The X Factor’ have so comprehensively co-opted ‘A Chorus Line’s emotional and narrative turf that what once seemed formally daring now teeters on the edge of cliché. The first half – in which each of the many auditionees shares a little of their life story with John Partridge’s director Zach – simply doesn’t feel structurally audacious any more, and lags when the spotlight is handed to one of the ensemble’s several weaker members.
But for every stodgy first half moment there’s a strong one, and the cast’s bigger names earn their place in the line: Leigh Zimmerman is very funny and very sexy as the waspish Sheila; Victoria Hamilton-Barritt injects grit and heart into feisty Diana; and former ‘EastEnders’ man Partridge is both ruggedly charismatic and astoundingly light on his feet as Zach. And following Scarlett Strallen’s powerful solo turn as fallen leading lady Cassie, the musical really finds its gear. The second half ensemble numbers are genuinely subversive, as the cast enters a mannequin-like lockstep that’s part gorgeous, part depressing as these sparky individuals achieve their ‘dream’ of becoming part of a faceless mass.
And the score is wonderful, an elegant mix of restrained orchestral gorgeousness and sizzling pre-disco funk, daft early numbers giving way to the climactic double whammy of hauntingly incomplete showtune ‘One’ and tender ballad ‘What I Did for Love’.
A classy, idiosyncratic show. But it’s a shame that something that was once such a breath of fresh air now has the musty whiff of museum piece to it. Andrzej Lukowski