Review – A Chorus Line

February 2, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More

★★★☆☆    Eye-catching

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 31 Jan – 4 Feb 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

A sure-fire Broadway hit back in the Seventies, when it became the longest running musical of its time, A Chorus Line gets a welcome production from the Edinburgh University Footlights up at the Church Hill this week.

On the surface it is outrageously simple stuff. Director Zach (Tom Paton) is auditioning for the eight dancers he needs for his latest – unnamed – show. We watch as they are whittled down from an opening cast of nearly 30, learning the steps of the audition piece from assistant choreographer Larry (Jimi Mitchell) across a bare and open stage.

Abby Jackson as Valerie. Photo: EU Footlights

If that opening scene is forbiddingly basic, the musical strips back even further once the first cut down to 17 has been made. While Zach assesses individual dancers for the suitability for a speaking role, individual dancers in the line begin to voice their own thoughts and insecurities.

This is not, however, the epitome of a musical-buff’s musical it might seem at first.

The reasons for it winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976 emerge. While the dance performances have to be excellent – and they are: freeze-frame those jumps and you could slide a knife under the dancers – this is all about teasing out and exposing the characters of the members of the chorus themselves.

Even before the cut there are a fair few noticeable performers. The fact that they are the ones which don’t make it just underlining the need for conformity in the line. Of course some, like Frank (Tom Reid) who keeps looking at his feet, just aren’t good enough. The success of the production is that while these characters are created and disposed off, there is still pleasure in watching the routines.

Once into the last 17, individuals begin to emerge through the rest of the chorus. Jessica Barker stands out for her beautifully clear voice as Maggie. Finlay MacAulay is an eye-catchingly lithe dancer as Mike. Keara Cornell creates a wonderfully edgy character, packed with attitude, as Sheila.

Endearing

This production isn’t about what is delivered as an ensemble, it is about the characters they become as they are exposed as individuals.

Adrien Semail as Paul

Caroline Hickling is endearing as the tone deaf Kristine, who can’t remember a thing. Sing!, her duet with Dan Harris rugged and no-nonsense as her husband Alan finishing off all her lines, is brilliantly constructed and clearly delivered with the rest of the ensemble jumping out of character to complete the emphasis.

The big set pieces are well done for the most part. Only Eric Geistfeld doesn’t get to the mark as Bobby Mills III. He’s affable enough but he just isn’t believable as the joker who simply can’t drop the gags which mask his real self.

The really standout vocal performance comes from Rebecca Clark, as Diana Morales, a Puerto Rican dancer whose drama teachers simply didn’t see her abilities. Besides creating a convincing and easily recognisable, if fairly basic character, Clark’s vocal abilities are clear, bright and very strong in her rendition of Nothing.

Elsewhere, there are bigger characters to create. Abby Jackson is spot-on as Valerie, the talented dancer who was tired of being passed-over in auditions because of her looks and lack of bust. With plenty of flounce and bounce, Dance: Ten; Looks: Three (Tits and Ass) outlines the ways plastic surgery and silicone implants have put her in the spotlight.

Rebecca Clark as Diana Morales

Roz Ford has the big solo dance number as Cassie, a once-successful soloist who has history with Zach. She nails the age reasonably well, but excels in interpreting Susan Harvey’s choreography for her big solo number, performing for Zach with the rest of the line are on a break. Choreographically it’s a bit heavy on the podium flounce, but it certainly matches Marvin Hamlisch’s funk-infused, jazz-rock score.

In terms of character, Adrien Semail has been given the peach of the parts as Paul San Marco. Breaking down when asked to deliver something of himself to the rest of the line, he returns to tell Zach privately of his childhood. It’s well told, forcing the empathy with the character – without drawing inappropriate laughter as his history of working drag clubs so easily could.

Director Marc Roberts has done a stirling job in bringing out the individuals. Where the production could pick up is in its drawing of a generality from those individuals. So that by the time Zach asks them, collectively, how they would cope if they had to stop dancing today, it just begins to drag, rather than drawing you compellingly to the realisation that these are really desperate people, toughing it out for a job.

What is clear, however, is the merging of all those individuals into a single entity in the final number. It’s not done quite as pointedly as it might be, but as they all dance out into the finale, it is hard to pick out the individuals you had come to empathise with. Great stuff and certainly worth a look.

Running time: 2 hours ten minutes.
Tuesday 31 January – Saturday 4 February 2012
Evenings: 7.30pm; Saturday Matinee: 2.30pm.
Edinburgh University Footlight website: www.edfootlights.com

ENDS

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hey Keara…GREAT…Great…great… Love Grandpa in San Diego, California

  2. Charles Semail says:

    Superb show, I don’t regret the traveling from Charlotte, North Caroline.Great job Adrien!

  3. Hannah Helliwell says:

    I had the privilege of seeing Edinburgh Footlights performance of A Chorus Line twice and I feel that neither of the two reviews published do justice to this production.

    Full marks are due to each and every one of the eighteen main performers. Drawn from a pool of Edinburgh University students these amateurs managed, without exception, to give the audience a clear window on the character they were entrusted to portray. There were no ‘shakey’ performances here. Each character had been skilfully directed so that they engaged with the audience even when acting skills were limited. Thankfully there were no cringing moments in this show.

    Musical Theatre requires a lot of its performers as they need to be able to act, sing and dance – a rare breed. Edinburgh Footlights did well to provide what it did. We had a handful of performers in this show who found the acting demands manageable but struggled with the other two disciplines. However, such was the careful direction and choreography, damage limitation was artfully achieved. Indeed, it struck me how the audience, despite watching non dancers attempting ballet moves at one point, showed nothing but respect for the efforts made towards this demanding dance discipline. I was impressed that the cast were able to carry this off and I give credit to all concerned as it could so easily have descended into farce.

    A Chorus Line gives many gifts to those who relish cameo parts and we enjoyed numerous moments of humour and well timed comedy. The first came from Finlay MacAulay when singing the song ‘I can do that’. His characterisation of Mike Costa was carried beautifully into this song and it appeared so natural to him to add the dance steps which he executed with the right level of energy and a flawless jazz fluidity.

    Keara Cornell who played the sexually provocative Sheila Bryant and managed just the right level of sexual innuendo to get the laughs also managed to subtly abandon all this in the heart rending number ‘At the Ballet’. Ms Cornell was joined in this beautifully and sensitively sung trio by Jessica Barker and Elayne Gray. All three managed to listen and blend with no one singer dominating.

    The character of Valerie Clark has decided that what is needed to secure a job in a chorus line is ‘Tits and Arse’ and Abby Jackson was perfect in her rendition of this song. Just the right level of physical and vocal confidence to pull this challenging number off. A very endearing performance.

    Rebecca Clark raised the mood of the audience with her singing of the song ‘Nothing’. Her voice has real character though perhaps not stamina, but she certainly manages perfectly the interpretation of a song such as this. Acting and singing were perfectly combined and the band responded to her energy and vitality by raising the standard of their playing. The character Morales is given a second solo in the later stages of the show and although Ms Clark immediately created a moving atmosphere with the words ‘Kiss Today Goodbye’ she failed to build on this by missing the importance of the sustained notes leading on to the musical climax at ‘Gone, love is never gone’.

    Marvin Hamlisch who co-wrote A Chorus Line (though he isn’t mentioned anywhere on the programme!) leaves a central character quietly lurking, for over half the show, behind all these up front characters – and that’s the part of Cassie Ferguson. This must be one of the trickier parts to cast for an amateur group but in Ros Ford they found a performer who could more than manage the serious characterisation, cope admirably with the vocal demands of ‘The Music and the Mirror’ and be stunning with the challenging 1970s style dancing required. Her singing grew out of the dialogue effortlessly (aided by some imaginative lighting) and she gave an intelligently structured performance of a solo that builds in feeling and energy and at one point is interrupted by some impromptu dance. The band enjoyed this number and we the audience were treated to an outpouring of exuberant music and dance.

    What a contrast it was to then hear the almost painful monologue written for the character Paul San Marco. Adrien Semail, who played the part, brought the atmosphere down to a more intimate level and held the audience for the duration of this heartfelt dialogue. There could perhaps have been more variation of tone, pitch and rhythm in this performance but nonetheless he managed to share effectively the emotional pain endured by the character.

    The show stopper ‘One Singular Sensation’ saw these performers joined by the rest of the chorus. The whole company succeeded in raising the energy level and the sequinned costumes provided a welcome moment of glitz. Edinburgh Footlights sound impressive when singing the big numbers with clearly every one pulling their weight vocally. Well done to all concerned as you provided a thoroughly entertaining night out. Marc Roberts had done a fine job of directing a group with such varying abilities. Richard Robinson had more than done his job of musically directing this group of mixed singers and musicians and Susan Harvey should be commended for judging so ably what was possible choreographically for these young university students.

    Hannah Helliwell.

Your comments