Posts Tagged ‘A Chorus Line’

American Clare Barron’s play is, well, very American. Ostensibly about the competitive dancing circuit for young teens, it’s more about growing up, searching for individual identity. I struggled to engage with it

I liked the start, where dance teacher Pat is laying out the route to the nationals, via Philadelphia and Akron Ohio to the giddy heights of Tampa, Florida. He tells them he’s created a routine about Ghandi, then discovers they’ve never heard of him. The dance competition journey is funny, capturing the obsession and competitiveness of such things in the American psyche; think pageants.

It took me a while to realise the cast of all shapes, sizes, races and ages were all playing 13-year-olds. They take it in turns to step out and tell their growing up story, their hopes and dreams, in scenes which are more serious and darker, filled with preoccupations of menstruation and masturbation. I suspect this will mean more to those who were once thirteen-year-old girls! It’s structure is a bit like A Chorus Line, though with tales of teenage angst rather than self-obsession and insecurity.

It’s good to see Brendan Cowell back (or maybe he hasn’t left) though the part is nowhere near as challenging as Yerma or Galileo. The seven ‘girls’ are all excellent, with Miranda Foster doubling-up brilliantly to play dance moms. Irfan Shamji was very good as the solitary boy dancer in this troop. I thought Samal Blak’s mirrored dance studio set, mirrors revolving to become competition stages and dressing rooms, was excellent.

I admired it rather than enjoyed it, no doubt because it was so far away from my life in so many ways.

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This is the second time The Landor have staged this unique show about American songwriter Ed Kleban. I’m not sure any other theatre in the UK has staged it even once. Given Kleban was the lyricist of A Chorus Line, which has just been revived at The Palladium, the Landor’s timing is impeccable. Frankly, I think it’s a much better show!

The deceased Kleban arrives at the Schubert Theatre in New York, where A Chorus Line is still running, for his own memorial (brilliant entrance!). The eulogies of his friends take us in flashback to various periods of his life from a mental institution in his late teens to his songwriting classes to Columbia Records, where he was a producer, to the rehearsal room of the only show that he would be remembered for. It’s a life full of anxiety and low self-confidence. The characters are real life people like Marvin Hamlish and Michael Bennett, composer and director respectively of A Chorus Line, and Lehman Engel, the leader of the songwriting workshop.

When he died of cancer, he willed his songs to his friends and fourteen years later they were incorporated into this show about his life. When you hear them, you cannot understand why he hadn’t had a string of hit shows. They are particularly strong lyrically, sharp and witty and in some ways Sondheimesque. When you hear his story though, you can see why he didn’t succeed – his insecurity and fragility getting in the way. It’s a bitter-sweet show which captivated me.

Director Robert McWhir has again assembled a fine cast led by a hugely impressive performance as Kleban by John Barr. McWhir’s staging and Robbie O’Reilly’s nimble choreography are outstanding. James Cleeve’s band play the score beautifully. It gets a touch too sentimental in the end, as American musicals have a habit of doing, but it’s absolutely not to be  missed.

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