A Chorus Line (Beenleigh Theatre Group)
Crete Street Theatre
January 31 – February 15
“A Chorus Line” begins with audience members being rushed in to a Broadway audition. True to expectations, it is leg warmers and headbands, self-assurance and nerves as we look upon a cattle call audition of performers each dreaming of stardom and hoping to ‘get it’ (as one of the show’s signature songs signposts).
The authentic approach continues once the diverse group of characters is down to seventeen, when from the back of the tiered stalls seats, the show-within-a-show’s director Zack (Zander Tidmarsh) asks the dancers to share their names, ages, and a little bit of their backstory, that is where they come from and why they dance, as he attempts to shrink the group size further down to eight.
There is a clear undercurrent of troubled history between the largely one-note, brash and un-empathetic Zack and once star dancer Cassie (Jackie Brewster) back in New York after trying to make it in Hollywood, exploration of which brings us back after interval. But beyond this there is not much in the way of conflict. There’s not much in the way of narrative either. Instead, we hear the hopefuls telling their stories and breaking out into the occasional song and dance number as we learn about the dreams and backgrounds that have uniquely shaped their lives. Act Two slows with some confronting content, not only in the form of a lengthy monologue in which Paul (Phil Maas) tells his story of how he was kicked out of home while struggling with his sexuality.
A single location story and bare audition stage setting makes for easy staging. The almost pre-requisite mirrors appear at times at the back of the stage, however, mirror imagery doesn’t contribute significantly to key dance numbers apart from their use in Cassie’s big number, ‘Music in the Mirror’. However, despite the minimalism of its staging, the show is fraught with challenges, given the sheer size of its ensemble cast.
The iconic show, which revolutionised the notion of what a musical could be when it opened in 1975, presents the audience with a rotation of stories straight from real life. Each tale is based on interviews between Michael Bennett (who originally conceived, directed and choreographed the show) and his friends. And in Beenleigh Theatre Group’s hands, it is ably brought to life anew three decades after its record breaking 15-year Broadway run ended.
As the lives of the dancers converge on the audition stage, performers all tell their characters’ stories with heart. Harley Coghlan is an early standout as the flamboyantly eccentric Robert and Aimee Monement commits to sour Sheila’s eye-roll obnoxiousness throughout her every gesture, action and reaction, even if this leaves little room for juxtaposition between her aggression and the pathos of her description of the role of ballet in offering her an escape from domestic conflict. As Cassie, Jackie Brewster tries her best to live up to the many mentions of her being the best dancer on the stage, especially given her character’s solo number and lengthy, but seemingly simple, dance routine.
Ensemble numbers feature good harmonies, while Taylah McLennan gives a standout vocal performance as the animated Diana, leading the cast during the iconic but almost out-of-place ‘What I Did for Love’. And ‘Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’ (aka the Tits and Ass song) from Rockette wannabe Val (Tabitha Woods), will stay with you long after its conclusion. Meanwhile, the role of Richie, provides Abu Kebe with a wonderful showcase of his talent as a dancer. Although his character’s profile is relatively minor in comparison to other roles, his stage presence when dancing more than makes up for this.
The high energy step kick kick leap kick touch, again choreography (Director and Choreographer Stewie Matthews) is a real treat, especially given the large ensemble. It is simple, elegant and almost too big for the space (#inagoodway), especially in the singular sensation signature tune ‘One’, in which the dancers finally dance the chorus number for an unnamed and unseen star. However, some occasional obtrusive, strangely-hued spot-lighting detract from the impact of others.
Marvin Hamlisch’s score (“A Chorus Line” was the composer’s first Broadway show) fills the theatre with a variety of musical styles, which are delivered without fault by the live, unseen-until-encore band, led by musical director/conductor Steven Days. Its contribution to the glorious reveal of the show’s razzle dazzle finale in which the auditionees all reunite on stage for the final number, dressed identically in ironic removal of the individuality we saw in earlier scenes, makes for a magical moment.
As a meta musical about the making of a musical, “A Chorus Line” may be ground-breaking in its celebration not of the stars of a show, but their anonymous chorus members support, but it is not necessarily a musical that propels itself to the top of people’s list of favourites. It is at times intense and often humourous in its capture of the essence of a Broadway chorus audition and in Beenleigh Theatre Group’s hands, a comforting take back to the musical’s intimate roots and core emotions, which makes for an enjoyable night out in experience of a classic of the musical stage.