If you’re a fan of musicals, you want to see every one of the greats at least once. Sometimes a mediocre score can really come to life in context in a way that just listening to a recording or even watching a movie may not get across. So I was excited when it was announced that A Chorus Line was coming to London – it was my first chance to see it! But then I saw the prices, which seemed exorbitant for a musical that doesn’t really have any kind of scenery overheads and only runs for two hours. I waited, week after week, for them to come down. Scarlett Strallen! “Dance Ten, Looks Three” done live instead of at the piano bar! Really, really high kicks! Then it announced it was closing in August, and it started to look like I was never going to make it. I finally gave up and broke my £20 barrier and got some £25 tickets off of LastMinute that they advertised as “in the front five rows” – I wasn’t sure why the crowds weren’t coming but I thought I should make a little bit of an effort or face ten more year of just never having seen it.
The setting is “New York, 1970s,” and, in a nutshell, I think this is where the show falls down. The play is about the stories of dancers – why they dance – with (usually) comic numbers that they perform to illustrate their little quirks. But the stories they tell about their lives seem really dated. Puerto Rican identity issues, lots of closeted gay guys … through the lens of 2013, a lot of these characters come off, not just as stereotypes, but as the kind of stereotypes people had of people during the 1970s that we have moved beyond. They really haven’t aged well. And while, for example, “Dance Ten Looks Three” is a snappy number, the bitchy intrologue was completely limp. Given my druthers, I’d strip the show down, rewrite all of the spoken bits, and look to replace maybe a third to a half of the songs with things that represent what the performers of today are like.
Of all of the stories, however, it was that of Cassie (Scarlett Strallen’s role) that just 100% still worked. A star fallen from the good roles and going back just to work; it’s timeless, and her dance to “The Music and the Mirror” was captivating. Zach’s line about how “she couldn’t dance like the rest of them” was just so true; Strallen’s dancing was just gorgeous. Maybe it was just the choreography – it’s designed so carefully throughout the show to demonstrate the skill level of the various characters – but even if she was given the best, well, she was up for it. This was the highlight of my evening – five minutes (time stopped, actually, it could have been three minutes or ten) of pure beauty and motion. Aaaaahhh.
The group scenes are also a treat, and, for a musicals fan, there’s no doubt that this is a fun evening, with lots of good dancing, excellent songs, and white-hot talent on stage. But I can’t help but think the run is not working out the way they hoped – fifth row seats shouldn’t be going for twenty five quid. That said – I do really feel I got my money’s worth; but even more so when I spent 65 to see Book of Mormon from off to the side. But that’s for another post.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013. The final performances will be on August 31st.)