On a stage in New York, 17 hopefuls gather to audition for eight roles in a musical. In a theatre in Perth, hundreds gathered to see a show....
And therein lay the problem – a disconnect in what they thought they were going to see (big sets, flashy costumes, maybe even some pyrotechnics) and the reality – which is a beautifully written, iconic piece of work that has endured through the generations due to the realness of the story, beautiful songs and hit choreography.
A Chorus Line is the original reality TV dance show. In the words of Neil Patrick Harris at last year's Tony Awards, ‘it's a two-hour, live-action, barely affordable, un-lip-synced version of Glee’. The original production won nine Tony Awards and ran for 6137 performances, making it the longest running production in Broadway history (until Chicago beat it in 2011). It’s still the fifth longest running Broadway show ever.
As the auditions begin we see them dance the iconic I Hope I Get It routine, then we meet the performers one by one as they are pushed by the show’s director, Zach, played by Dancing with the Stars judge, Josh Horner, to tell their story; their reason for being there. Some are brand spanking new to the industry and others who are jaded and desperate.
The direction was slick and effective - I loved the use of mirrors. The argument between Connie and Zach in particular built beautifully, as did Paul’s monologue.
The score is fabulous. The choreography (Cassie’s solo aside) is still captivating.
As a group, the ensemble is dynamic and sharp – a very talented bunch. Individually the actor’s voices were a little thin and at times, hard to hear.
Debora Horn-Krizak as Sheila was the obvious standout and the crowd’s firm favourite, getting huge laughs at every line, turn and eyebrow raise. I loved Ashley McKenzie in the role of Bobby – he brought beautiful balance to the role, at times touching and others hysterically funny. Ross Hannaford as Paul was heartbreaking.
One of my favourite songs Nothing was beautifully performed by Karlee Misipeka with a clear, pure voice and good projection (some of the others got a bit lost). Sian Johnson provided many laughs as the endearing and nervous Kristine. Kurt Douglas’ dance number was a highlight – how wonderful to be able to move your body like that!
Eight performers might have won the part, but it wasn’t enough to win over the audience entirely. The material is funny, poignant, touching and relatable. The well-known hit songs are woven into the monologues, as are the dance numbers, but the cast was a little light on with their characters - I was almost moved to tears a few times. Almost.
I saw people shifting in their seats and others checking their phones. As I left the theatre I overheard someone saying that he thought WAAPA had done it better the year before.
The problem of course was that many of the people I spoke to afterward were not theatre aficionados and, upon seeing the word ‘musical’ on the invitation, expected spectacular sets and colourful costumes. Instead they got a bare stage and a series of monologues. Granted there are some spectacular dance scenes and beloved songs – but if you don’t know the show you wouldn’t be looking forward to Nothing or What I Did For Love or the show stopping number One.
It’s Australian Story versus My Bedazzled Life... Critics and fans will love it; have loved it.
There is a place for this musical. The story of A Chorus Line is one that still resonates strongly, but now that the average person is hyped up on dramalities, special effects, Brynne Edelsten and X Factor, I can see how it might be difficult to connect with this paired down offering, especially if you’re expecting Wicked or Annie (as one lady kept comparing it to afterwards). It’s Australian Story versus My Bedazzled Life. One is a quality show focusing on incredible real life tales; the latter is a hyped up version of the former with lots of glitter, editing and makeup. Critics and fans will love it; have loved it! It won the 2012 Helpmann Award for Best Musical after all. The average person will, I fear, want more.
Hits: An exceptionally talented group of performers. A timeless tale that I was thrilled to have the chance to see again in Perth.
Misses: Some well known Perthonalities were seen sneaking out during the show, while others reported that they dozed off several times.
See this if: You’re a fan of the show or you’re an actor or dancer – you will be able to empathise with the process.
Don’t see this if: You only like musicals for the spectacle! You’re better off saving your money and going to see Legally Blonde or Cirque de Soleil.
Buy tickets from Ticketek from $64.90 plus booking fee
A Chorus Line runs from Tuesday, October 23 through to Sunday, November 4.