Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: to Sat 28th January 2012, various days and times, see the BASS web site for details
Duration: 2hrs 10min, no interval
Tickets: adult Premium $110, A Reserve $90, B Reserve $80, C Reserve $70/conc (C Reserve) $60/Child (C Reserve) $60/Family (C Reserve) $200/Groups 6+ $70/Green Room $45
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or http://www.bass.net.au
The famous 1975 multi award winning musical is about a group of 17 dancers auditioning for places in the chorus line of an upcoming Broadway show. The music is by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Edward Kleban, and the book is by James Kirkwood Jnr. and Nicholas Dante. The production is set on the bare stage of an empty theatre, where the auditioning dancers reveal their stories, tell what brought them to this point in their lives and why this audition is so important to them. We also discover a lot about the choreographer, Zach, as he and his assistant, Larry, conduct the auditions to select the final four male and four female dancers.
This production is based on the award winning 2006 Broadway revival, directed and choreographed by Baayork Lee, who played Connie in the original production. The superb documentary, Every Little Step, that was shown on television a few days ago, combined film of the auditions for that revival production with film of the original workshop process in the 1970s.
The set is black, with huge mirrors across the back, like those in a dance studio, that can be flown in and out giving the only set changes until the final bows. The dancers are dressed in a motley array of rehearsal clothes. The focus is, thus, entirely on the performance.
As the curtain rises, we see a large group of dancers working on a routine. The opening number expresses the universal desire to be chosen in, I Hope I Get It. Zach quickly cuts a number of them, who are clearly not coping, leaving the seventeen who we will see competing for the eight positions.
This is a particularly unusual work in that it asks the dancers to make deliberate mistakes and also make them appear believable which is, perhaps, more demanding than the usual requirements of individual accuracy and ensemble precision. It was also one of the earliest shows that expected each performer to not only dance brilliantly, but act and sing at an extremely high level as well, paving the way for so much of what we see today.
It was also ground-breaking in that it touched on so many rather taboo subjects. Child sexual abuse, homosexuality and transvestitism were not things that were spoken of openly in society or the theatre at that time and audiences were shocked by the these topics, and more, being discussed. That level of shock is no longer possible as those taboos have gone, but there is still plenty of power in the way with which they are dealt.
If this is starting to sound a little odd for a musical based in dance, that is because it is more than that. It is possible to describe it as a drama that includes singing and has dance as its foundation. It even won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Its lasting value is due to this strength in the writing added to the the the music and dance. It is a timeless piece.
This particular production is something very special; flawless, apart from an occasional solo voice getting lost under the chorus. The casting is perfect, with seventeen distinct individuals on stage for the entire performance, whether in the spotlight telling their story, or sitting to the side tying a shoe.
The characters that the nineteen performers create are fully developed and draw you ever deeper into their lives and the constricted world of the audition space. Joshua Horner gives us a Zach who is completely in control of the situation, who knows exactly what he is looking for and is determined to settle for nothing less. He drives the dancers, pushing them ever further, progressively bringing out more from them as the time goes by. Horner makes his presence felt strongly, even though he only appears on stage a few times, primarily only heard calling instructions. When he does take to the stage his dancing makes it clear that Zach is in charge for a good reason.
There is a fine blend of strength and grace in his work and that is well emulated by Gerard Carter, as Larry, Zach's right hand man. Carter does not have a lot to say as Larry, but it is Larry who teaches the dancers the routines and leads them through the rehearsal stage before the auditions and Carter is ideal in that role. Horner and Carter together form the driving force for the actions and reactions of the other seventeen.
There are so many great performances that it would be unfair to single out any of the performers, and to talk about each in turn would take pages. Anita Louise Combe must be mentioned as she plays the role of Cassie, who worked with Zach in the past. Hers is a more major role than some of the others and Combe does a fine job as the dancer who had escaped from the line into solo work for a while, but it dried up and she now wants to return to the line. She and Horner create some moving moments as their pasts and the present come together leading to a marvellous solos. Her rendition of The Music and the Mirror is stunning.
To top it off, the entire cast reappear for the bows dressed entirely in gold with a huge gold fan behind them.This particular production is something very special
Then there are the songs that have been sung by just about everybody, and most of them by Sammy Davis Jnr., who made a feature number of I Can Do That, and had a hit with What I Did For Love, the song the the cast sing after Zach asks them what they would do if they could no longer dance. And, of course, there is One (Singular Sensation), probably the best known song from the show and the one you will probably have in your head for at least a week after you see this production..
There is just so much to like about this production and a lot of great work is contributed by the unseen Adelaide Art Orchestra, under the direction of Timothy Sexton, and conducted in performance by the production's Musical Director, Paul White. As always, there is a superb balance and a marvellous clarity to their playing that gives all the support the actors could wish for.
There is much more that could be said but, basically, all that really remains to be said is that, if you do not already have a ticket, move quickly, because some who have already seen this terrific show are planning to buy more tickets and go again. You really do not want to miss this one.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.