Tuesday 9 July 2024

A Chorus Line


Curve, Leicester

Monday 8th July, 2024


‘I really need this job…’

In recent years Curve have really hit their stride producing big shows that have gone on to have an extensive life on the touring circuit and in the West End. An Officer and a Gentleman is returning to the stage later this year, The Wizard of Oz had a successful run at the London Palladium and is now touring the UK, and Curve’s 2016 production of Grease has become a mainstay of the West End summer schedules in recent years. Now their latest return offering, a UK tour of Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line, is back and in even better shape than before.

The question that always arises with productions of A Chorus Line is, inevitably, ‘Is the stage big enough to hold the eponymous ‘line’?’. This is never an issue for Curve, as the vast stage frames the ensemble beautifully, feeling neither cramped nor sparse. One could say this is the perfect venue. Utilising the theatre’s technical prowess to optimum effect, Howard Hudson’s lighting is truly spectacular, bringing the necessary scenic pizzazz Grace Smart’s minimal set. The technical aspects of Nikolai Foster’s production remain a big selling point. For example, the use of a handheld camera throughout is a nice touch – despite a small hiccup the night we attended. These projections provide a deeper insight into the emotional nuances of the normally ‘faceless’ ensemble figures and create an intimacy that could otherwise be lost in such a huge space. While ‘live-stream’ theatre seems to be in vogue right now, from Jamie Lloyd’s Sunset Boulevard and Romeo and Juliet, to Curve’s own Evita, so you could say that the use of cameras in the initial 2021 run proves A Chorus Line to be somewhat of a theatrical trend-setter!

Yet this is not merely a technical gimmick: Foster uses the close-ups to home in on the thematic relevancies of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s 1975 musical, relating them to a new, contemporary audience. The often invasive, tight camera angles enhance the sense that Foster’s production sees the musical almost as a prototype for the talent shows that have ruled pop-culture for the past couple of decades. Director Zach’s (Adam Cooper) continual insistence that the dancers tell him the ‘truth’ and dig down to unleash their feelings is reminiscent of the exploitative nature of Simon Cowell and co.’s entertainment tv shows; shoving a camera lens into the faces of emotional hopefuls in an attempt to manufacture sympathy.

When we first saw this classic a few years ago it was apparent why those in the industry hold the piece in such high regard. After a second viewing I’m still in the mind that a weakness to James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicolas Dante’s book is that it can be a little navel-gazing. I prefer the subtler poignancy and psychological depth of Sondheim’s Follies as an insight into the workings of the showbiz ensemble. However, the company’s dedicated characterisation work and Foster’s clean direction ensures each auditionee is memorable.

For me, while I can’t get fully on board with some of the self-indulgent sentimentalism, where A Chorus Line really excels is in the comedic moments. I loved the self-deprecating nature of numbers like ‘Sing!’ and ‘Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’. Similarly, ‘Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love’, which recounts episodes of the excruciating embarrassment we all experience as teenagers, and the yearning feeling of those in-between years betwixt childhood and adulthood, strikes a wonderful balance between being very funny and capturing the pathos of the loss of innocence. This number is also a fine example of how the piece is a true showcase for the ensemble. Every cast member gets their moment in the spotlight. The final grand number is a fabulous juxtaposition, leaving the audience torn between being awe-struck by the gold-clad spectacle and mourning the loss of the individuality of the characters we’ve spent the last couple of hours getting to know.

Foster and co. have made small tweaks which make this revived production a step up from its previous incarnation – money has obviously been spent on upgrading the wigs, and thankfully the tin foil backdrop has been scrapped from ‘The Music and the Mirror’ in favour of a more natural aesthetic. The production is topped off by Ellen Kane’s sublime choreography. The dance routines are the kind that leave those who can dance wanting to learn the numbers, and those who can’t dance (eg. me!) wishing they could. In all, A Chorus Line is a great example of triple threat theatre. The stamina of those involved in the show is outstanding and the affection the cast and creatives have for it is palpable.

A Chorus Line plays at Curve, Leicester until 13th July 2024.

For full tour details please visit https://www.achoruslinetour.com/#booktickets


The cast of A Chorus Line. Credit: Marc Brenner

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