Presented by Marie Clark Musical Theatre
Reviewed Friday 25th May 2012
Adelaide saw the professional tour of A Chorus Line only a short time ago and so comparison is unavoidable. In this case, however, that is not a problem, as this production compares more than favourably. Director, Melanie George, Musical Director, Ben Stefanoff, and Choreographer, Victoria Beal, took on a huge challenge with this production and should be justly pleased with the results of their efforts. The original production was conceived, designed, choreographed, and directed by Michael Bennett from the book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban. The recent professional tour was under the watchful eye of Director, Choreographer, Baayork Lee, who was the first to play the role of Connie, and a note from her, proudly displayed on the foyer notice board, sent her well-wishes to those involved with this production.
Twenty-three hopefuls are auditioning for a place in the chorus line of an upcoming production. We find Zach, the director, and Larry, his assistant, busily putting them through their paces. A few are cut at right at the start and sent home. We follow the progress of the rest through to the final cut and discover who has been chosen for the four male and four female positions. To help him decide which eight will be selected, Zach decides that he needs to know more about the auditioning performers than just their dancing skills and what they reveal on their résumés.
It begins easily enough as he asks each performer to introduce themselves, giving their hometown, name and age. He asks why they are there, but wants deeper answers than that they want a job. He wants to know why each became a dancer, what drove them, what they would do if, or when they could no longer dance. Their answers, presented in monologues and songs, are enormously revealing and they go even deeper into their personal lives as the audition proceeds.
Apart from Zach, every performer in the cast must be able to dance, and to do so at a high level. That, however, is not enough, as they must all sing very well and be excellent actors, too. Interestingly, many of the cast were not dancers at the start of rehearsals. They were taught to dance from scratch by Victoria Beal, with assistance from Melanie George, as well as learning all of the choreography during that rehearsal period; a remarkable achievement for everybody. Admittedly, Beal has adjusted the choreography in places to suit the abilities of the cast, but she has also managed to maintain the character of Michael Bennett’s original choreography in so doing.
Ben Stefanoff has assembled a very fine thirteen piece orchestra and has elicited some great work, individually and in ensemble, from the cast. Musically, this production is a good as it is a dance piece. That brings us to the acting where, again, we find both ensemble work and individual performances are impressive.
David Grybowski played Zach, giving a strong performance in the role, with a powerful connection exhibited in his scene with Tanya Harris, as his ex-lover, Cassie. Harris captures Cassie’s desperate desire to dance with such conviction in her performance, presenting a dance solo that confirms her love of performing.
Anton Schrama tears at the heart strings in a marvellous delivery of his monologue. Alone on the spacious ARTS Theatre stage, he reduces it to a tiny spot on which all eyes are focussed, everything else out of sight and mind.
Mason Somerville’s performance as Bobbie is notable, as he injects much humour to hide his serious side. Sam Taylor, as Mike, gives a superb rendition of I Can Do That. Maylin Superio charms as Connie, and Kerry Staight, as Sheila, Kimberley Hein, as Bebe, and Sophia Bubner, as Maggie really brought a touching poignancy to At The Ballet. Jessica Knights, as Diana, also makes What I Did For Love a moving closure to the evening.
The whole cast work hard and well throughout the entire show and, even when the focus is not on them, they all stay solidly in character. Try to keep one eye on what is going on in the background or the shadows. Speaking of shadows, Melanie George’s well-thought out lighting design is important to the production as the set, like the original, is only a bare, black curtained stage, with mirrors at the rear that are sometimes covered, sometimes revealed. Nothing has been overlooked in this excellent production, and the costumes in the finale are stunners.
Such was the engaging quality of the production that people were heard in the foyer afterwards lamenting the fact that Zach only took eight of the people auditioning, as there were others whom they would have liked to see get in as well. This production, therefore, clearly works far beyond just being an evening of entertainment, the audience having bought into the premise that these are real people auditioning for real jobs. What more could a theatre company ask for then that sort of response? Make a point of seeing this performance, if you can still get tickets.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.