A Chorus Line [Review]

One Manuel Harlan

"One singular sensation, everything little breathe he takes, one singular sensation every move that he makes." Yes, this is one of the most famous lines in musical theatre. It is from A Chorus Line, which just opened up at The Palladium Theatre.

Originally staged in 1975 in New York and last seen in London 30 years ago, A Chorus Line has not lost any of its themes and relevance as it shows the suffering and pain (and happiness) of potential Broadway dancers as they audition for a show.

Its creator and choreographer, Michael Bennett, won the Tony and Pulitzer prizes for the show (he died at the age of 44 in 1987), while the music is by Marvin Hamlisch, who passed away last year.

In A Chorus Line, there are 25 dancers who are competing (on a bare stage) for eight slots in a show, and they are put through the paces by director Zach (John Partridge, who is off stage for most of the show). After a great opening number to the song "I hope I get it", the hopefuls are whittled down to 17, and this is when each dancer is told to step forward to tell a little about themselves, whether it be a deep dark secret or something amusing about their parents. It is at this point in the show that the talent (and personalities) of the actors (and characters) shine. And it is very bold of the casting agents for this show to cast all unknown actors in the roles so as to mirror a real audition.

Sheila, with a very straight pose and a direct to the point tongue, is the oldest (and tallest) dancer of the lot, and wants to stay a dancer for a long as she can. Leigh Zimmerman plays Sheila with lots of gusto, and the audience hopes that she will get picked. Then there is Cassie (Scarlett Strallen), who sees this audition as a way to get back to what she really really wants to do: dance. She was, however, at one point dating Zach (and left him with just a note on the bed), so Zach is toughest on her to the point of bringing her to tears, but Cassie is one strong woman and never gives up, even when she reaches a near breaking point. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt plays a Latin girl from the Bronx with toughness and edginess about her. Other standouts include Rebecca Herszenhorn as Val, who has curves in all right places (but does she have the moves?) and Harry Francis as Mark, the youngest of the dancers, who discusses his first wet dream. And then there is Paul (Gary Wood), who goes on in detail to explain his early career as a drag act and coming to terms with his homosexuality. Some of the best moments in A Chorus Line are from Alexzandra Sarmiento who plays Connie, a very tiny dancer but tall in personality and wittiness. She is hilarious.

I had never actually seen A Chorus Line on stage before, and I was impressed by how relevant it is today as it was back in the 70s. Some of the dialogue could've been updated, and there is a reference to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan, which most Londoners wouldn't understand. We get to know all the characters, but sadly, also know that half of them will get cut, and when this happens it is surprising. Go see A Chorus Line. This show should be mandatory as an introduction to theatre for everyone.