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A Chorus Line at the Curve Theatre in Leicester

I am still in two minds as to whether the sort of direct questioning from Zach (Adam Cooper) with regards to personal matters would be welcomed if A Chorus Line was set today rather than the 1970s. Perhaps things would be phrased differently, though in an entertainment industry that increasingly values authenticity, the overall sentiment behind wanting to know people’s backstories would be appreciated. There is, particularly but not exclusively in Paul San Marco’s (Ainsley Hall Ricketts) story, a rather outmoded way of building someone up by first tearing them apart: emotionally overcome by recounting teenage experiences, he breaks down, though by contemporary safeguarding standards one wonders if things should have ever reached that point.

(L-R) Charlotte Scott as Maggie Winslow and Chloe Saunders as Val Clarke - A Chorus Line - Photography by Marc Brenner.
(L-R) Charlotte Scott as Maggie Winslow and Chloe Saunders as Val Clarke – A Chorus Line – Photography by Marc Brenner.

The show has much relevance to the world we live in today, and the narrative reminds the audience that a good number of decent, talented people in the entertainment industry are out of work, at least in their chosen field, at any point. There need not necessarily be a global pandemic in progress for these dancers to find themselves wondering if they should continue to pursue a career on the stage, and it didn’t take a suggestion to retrain in something allegedly more viable to begin a deep-level conversation (in a musical, no less) about alternative ways of paying the bills and ensuring these characters can eat and have a roof over their heads.

The industry is, arguably, even more intense than it was a generation ago – and at least the ones who don’t make it through the various recalls are all explicitly told they didn’t make it. Not for them the stories of today where some people discover they didn’t get the job when the casting is released to the media and their name isn’t listed in the press release. Not that these young characters don’t have troubles. But some of their recollections of yesteryear are quite hilarious: some of the boys remember having too many erections at too many inappropriate moments at school, while at least one of the young ladies used to have a fixation about when their breasts would get bigger. Still another eventually settled on undergoing surgery.

Cooper’s Zach isn’t as shouty as some other Zachs in previous productions: firm and demanding, he is only cruelly intimidating when in conversation with Cassie Ferguson (Carly Mercedes Dyer), and even then, Cassie is more than capable of standing up for herself, much to the press night audience’s delight. He even comes across as encouraging and supportive on occasion, even when the likes of Mark Anthony (Jamie O’Leary), who once confessed to his vicar he had reason to believe he had gonorrhoea (well, I thought it was amusing), are visibly nervous.

For a show without an interval, there is an almost absurdly long pre-amble, in which much is learnt about the various characters. It is somewhat contrived: for instance, Kristine (Katie Lee), who can’t sing, is married to Al (Joshua Lay), who can. Plenty of the dancers see their pursuit of dance as a form of escapism from troubling personal circumstances, which counters the idea that those who pursue a career in the arts do so because they are privileged enough to have few, if any, worries.

If the set is not much to write home about, this is in line with other productions of this show, portraying a rehearsal space for much of the evening, and placing the emphasis on the character storylines and the rehearsal process. Larry (Taylor Walker), the assistant director, is the only one with a British accent, and more notably holds a camera, allowing the audience to see (thanks to projections on a screen at the back of the stage) some close facial expressions even from the back row of the circle. The production is all the richer for it.

In a world that focuses on celebrity as much now as it did then, it’s refreshing to hear stories of people who are auditioning for jobs in the chorus. As Cassie tells Zach, “They’re all special” – and at the same time, the show identifies commonalities, such as figures in their childhood lives – parents, teachers, peers, other relatives – who told them they didn’t have what it takes to make it as dancers, or the regular need to reaudition as each production they are in sooner or later posts closing notices.

It is not, as a fellow audience member remarked afterwards, a family show. But it is telling that people were thinking about who they could bring along to see this highly enriching and engaging production. There’s a vibrancy in the choreography (Ellen Kane) that befits the youthful vigour of the characters. The attention to detail is impressive – far from an overly competitive atmosphere, the dancers applaud one another’s performances, and yet, the keen ones, the chatty ones, the nervous wrecks (and so on) all stay in character throughout. It’s business as usual at the Curve Theatre, in another blockbuster production of a blockbuster musical.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

New York City. 1975. On an empty Broadway stage, 18 performers are put through their paces in the final, gruelling audition for a new Broadway musical. Only eight will make the cut. The audition takes an unexpected turn as the director, Zach, invites the performers to open up about their lives and what brought them into theatre. What follows are searing stories of ambition, childhood, shattered dreams and what it means to follow your dreams onto the stage. The emotional stakes are heightened when Zach’s ex-lover Cassie, fresh from an attempt to make it in Hollywood, wants to audition for the chorus line.

The cast features a host of familiar faces to Curve, including West Side Story company members Ronan Burns as Bobby Mills, Beth Hinton-Lever as Bebe Benzenheimer, Katie Lee as Kristine Ulrich and Redmand Rance as Mike Costa.

The cast is completed by Emily Barnett-Salter as Sheila Bryant, Bradley Delarosbel as Gregory Gardner, Lizzy-Rose Esin-Kelly as Diana Morales, André Fabien Francis as Richie Walters, Ainsley Hall Ricketts as Paul San Marco, Joshua Lay as Al Deluca, Kanako Nakano as Judy Turner, Hicaro Nicolai as Swing, Jamie O’Leary as Mark Anthony, Tom Partridge as Don Kerr, Rachel Jayne Picar as Connie Wong, Chloe Saunders as Val Clarke, Charlotte Scott as Maggie Winslow, Hollie Smith-Nelson as Swing, Marina Tavolieri as Swing and Taylor Walker as Larry.

Conceived & Originally Directed & Choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood & Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Co-choreographed by Bob Avian
Director Nikolai Foster
Choreographer Ellen Kane
Designer Grace Smart
Musical Supervisor David Shrubsole
Costume Designer Edd Lindley
Lighting Designer Howard Hudson
Sound Designer Tom Marshall
Musical Director Tamara Saringer
Casting Director Kay Magson CDG

A CHORUS LINE
Directed by Nikolai Foster
Choreography by Ellen Kane
Featuring Adam Cooper as Zach and Carly Mercedes Dyer as Cassie
FRI 3 – FRI 31 DEC 2021
https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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