Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Subscribe
Renew
Give a Gift


Logo

Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
A CHORUS LINE
at London Palladium

NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING
By DAVID BENEDICT

  Ph: Manuel Harlan

“Then I sit on my desk on the 41st floor/ In my copy of a copy of a copy of Dior!” Yes, I know that’s from Sweet Charity, but though it’s the wrong musical, it’s the right idea. Watching the disappointing London incarnation of A Chorus Line is like seeing a copy of a copy of a copy of Michael Bennett’s original singular sensation. 

For those who were either too young or unaccountably missed the then-record-breaking original Broadway run and/or its 2006-08 return, A Chorus Line was – and is – revolutionary. Building on the mold-breaking form of Company five years earlier (musical staging by Bennett), it exploded the standard musical. Instead of pursuing a story with a protagonist, it presented dancers at a two-hour audition for a show. And that’s it. But the dynamic simplicity of catapulting audiences into the heat of the warts-’n-all process, thereby exposing the lives of Broadway dancers, proved utterly exhilarating. 

All that, plus the fact that the show ran just three years in London, explains why hopes were so high for its return. But the reason it fails to live up to the meaning of the term “revival” is not simply a bad case of great expectations. Bob Avian’s production hasn’t been directed, it’s been exhumed.

Updating this acknowledged classic would, of course, be impossible. Its viewpoint, lyrics, text and sexual politics are so wholly of their era that if you started tinkering and unpicking it, it would completely unravel. There are new elements, notably characterless electronic keyboards in the band and a bass-heavy sound design, but everything else is in aspic. 

The best revivals of famous ballet and opera productions prove you can refresh works without rewriting them. But to do that you have to invigorate cast members so that their interpretations are freshly energised. The dancers who created these roles understood the wellspring of every dramatic phrase. Too many in this cast appear to have been drilled into merely repeating trademarked looks, moves and moments.

Fire still sometimes erupts, especially in the punchy adolescence montage “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” Bennett’s bravura intercutting of multiple perspectives remains dazzling with all the isolated individual voices thrillingly woven into an exultant overall texture. But many of the solos fail to elicit emotional engagement. Robbed of wit, Rebecca Herszenhorn’s “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” falls, er, flat.

The major exceptions are actors playing the Puerto Ricans. Paul, the gay character who has something akin to a breakdown, is played with rare restraint by Gary Wood. His unemphatic delivery allows the audience into the character’s situation in a manner that comes as a relief against all the empty emoting surrounding him. And Victoria Hamilton-Barritt delivers a nicely judged Diana, the girl who flunks acting class. (“Maybe it’s genetic, they don’t have bobsleds in San Juan!”) 

She even manages to hold on to her dignity leading “What I Did For Love,” the show’s generalised uplift anthem that makes nonsense of the detailed pain that precedes it. The climactic fanning out of its multiple harmonies delivers a real rush, but even that can’t stop the number being sentimentality incarnate. (Composer Marvin Hamlisch later shamefacedly admitted the song was written solely because the show needed a take-home hit.)

Hamilton-Barritt’s experience is one of the things missing from Scarlett Strallen’s low-lustre Cassie. You applaud her effort, but the complex emotions of a woman in desperation never register, partly because John Partridge’s lamentable Zach is so one-note dictatorial. But even in her solo “The Music and The Mirror,” Strallen's performance expresses the choreography but nether Cassie's plight nor its dramatic purpose. 

And that’s symptomatic of the entire evening, which is particularly frustrating given that there’s a huge audience of people who have never seen the show but have been primed for it via TV shows like X-Factor utilising the Chorus Line format of having auditions as knock-out contests. It’s an indictment of the production that, despite the surface achievement, you realise you don’t really care who actually makes it through to the chorus line.

 


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © TheaterNewsOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.