Reviews/Musical Theatre

WAAPA hopefuls line up for the big time

14 October 2020

The Broadway smash hit ‘A Chorus Line’ is the perfect vehicle for WAAPA students to strut their stuff, finds David Zampatti. But what will become of all this talent?

A Chorus Line, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts ·
Geoff Gibbs Theatre, 13 October 2020 ·

If ever the unfortunate circumstance were to arise where lack of funds or imagination meant that WAAPA’s Music Theatre course decided to feature its graduating class in the same musical every year, virtually by necessity it would surely be A Chorus Line. The timeless Marvin Hamlisch and Michael Bennett property – I almost said ‘venerable’, but that would misrepresent it – appropriated the idea of a “triple threat” for the musical theatre and, along with Cabaret, pioneered the concept of the meta-musical.

It was and is, a smash hit; for over 20 years the longest-running Broadway show ever, its success repeated in countless international territories. With its principal cast of 19 – each with featured spots and ensemble routines, singing, dancing and acting assignments – it’s a unique experience for audiences and custom-made for the talent coming out of WAAPA each year.    

I saw the original West End production in 1977 (I was very, very young, okay?). It was my first experience of a full-bore big-time hit musical. My first, instinctive reaction, one that has stayed with me ever since, arose from A Chorus Line‘s nervous energy. The hopes and fears of its characters as they are interrogated by the director, Zach (Jack Keen) are expressed in words, in song and dance. Each of their stories explores the life cycle of performers  (the show emerged from interviews with Broadway ‘gypsies’ – the dancers who go from class to class, audition to audition, show to show), and each has a song to tell that story.

Director Zach (Jack Keen) auditions a group of hopefuls in ‘A Chorus Line’. Photo Stephen Heath

Mike (Campbell Braithwaite) remembers how his sister’s dance classes started his life on stage (“I Can Do That”), the hard-bitten Sheila (Ruby Voss) recalls how dance was her refuge from an unhappy home (“At the Ballet”), Diana (Giorgia Kennedy) her unfathomable school acting classes (“Nothing”).

There’s comedy and heartbreak: Kristine (Hannah Royle) and Al (Jamie Smith) DeLuca are a husband-and-wife act with problems; Kristine can’t hold a tune and Al can’t stop finishing her sentences (”Sing”), while the practical Val (Lucy Fraser) worked out she needed more than God-given talent to succeed (“Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”).

But there’s nothing funny about the dilemma Cassie (Emily Wood) finds herself in. She came out of the chorus line to become a soloist, but now, despite Zach’s objections, wants to rejoin to find work (“The Music and the Mirror”), and Paul (Jordan Tomljenovic) journeyed through drag to the legit stage, but paid for his experience with many kinds of pain.

The big numbers – “One” and “What I Did for Love” are well crafted by a cast that – at present at least – are stronger singers than dancers, and Craig Dalton directs the 21-piece band with clarity (although it’s a shame they couldn’t be out front rather than backstage behind curtains, at the expense of connection between musicians and performers). Crispin Taylor is an expert director of WAAPA productions, and he reproduces the tightly defined stagecraft of the original show precisely.

What’s to become of all this talent? This production was performed in front of a small, tightly controlled audience in the Geoff Gibbs Theatre, a reminder that outside its walls a pestilence still plunders the popular arts, and, like the virus, the damage caused will linger for years – perhaps decades.

This is what they do for love. Let’s pray that will get them through.   

Note: ‘A Chorus Line’ was produced as an in-house performance due to COVID restrictions.

Picture top: The high-kicking chorus girls in ‘A Chorus Line’. Photo by Stephen Heath

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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