Showbiz can be cruel, as the dancers auditioning for A Chorus Line reveal in raw and funny ways. Julie Hosking steps into their shoes.
A Chorus Line, Drew Anthony Creative
Royale Theatre, 4 August 2023
It’s my first foray into the Royale Theatre in Northbridge and I’m pleasantly surprised. The intimate space, with tables at the front and booths at the back is a world away from the bustling games room and bar downstairs.
As we settle into the regular red-velvet seats, the cast limbers up in and around bright blue letters spelling out A Chorus Line. I wonder how the small stage can possibly provide space for them all once they start dancing.
And yet, it does. Choreographer Jessica Ashton has finely tuned the steps so that even when the ensemble is at its peak, bodies move without unscripted collisions.
But while dancing is at the heart of this under-appreciated musical, the dancers are the soul. Their stories are drawn from the real-life experiences of those auditioning for the Broadway chorus line. Director and choreographer Michael Bennett turned on a tape recorder at a rehearsal in 1974 and asked them to open up. What he collected was raw, honest and far from the glitzy showbiz façade (the resulting Tony and Pulitizer Prize-winning show also helped save Broadway, but that’s another story).
There is real drama and pathos amid the kicks and twirls: snatches of sad and lonely lives, of confusion about sexuality, of terrible anxiety about finding a job, and the constant threat of rejection. The stories are also punctuated with humour, as dancer after dancer steps forward to share a little of themselves at the director’s behest. Zach (a commanding G Madison IV) only wants eight dancers for his latest show so the assembled throng know they are up against it.
As the dancers are whittled down to 17, we learn more about those trying to snare a spot on the chorus line. There’s veteran Sheila (Elethea Sartorelli) who is worried if she misses this time, it’s curtains for her career. Don (Jamie Rolton) really just wants the regular work to support his family. And young Paul (Zak Bresland) is clearly dealing with something he is terrifed of sharing in any forum.
Val (a delightful Lucy Goodrick), on the other hand, is only too happy to flaunt her surgically acquired assets for Dance: Ten, Looks: Three (Tits and Ass), while Greg (Greg Jarema) gives a frank account of his sexual revelation. With prompting from husband Al (Jamie Papanicolaou), Kristine (Rosemary Spelman) confesses she just can’t hold a tune on the amusing Sing!, while spiky Puerto Rican Diana (Sophie Psaila-Savona) reveals she struggles to feel anything on Nothing.
As time moves on, it becomes clear there’s also some history between Cassie (Morgan Cowling) and Zach, who makes a rare foray onto the stage to have it out with the former soloist. “What are you doing here,” he wants to know of the woman he thought would be a star.
Bobby (Allen Blachford) has his eyes on Hollywood; Mike (Ethan Churchill) shows his confidence on song and dance number I Can Do That, while Connie (a bubbly Gemma Hanh) is just one of the dancers to reveal hang-ups (I used to hang from a parallel bar … hoping I’d stretch) and insecurities on Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.
While some of the voices get a little lost in the montages, for the most part there is a real cohesion to the performances, particularly on more poignant numbers such as At the Ballet, where Emma Haines (as Maggie) shows why she is in such demand so soon after graduating WAAPA.
The cast’s harmonies on the heartwrenching What I Did for Love, which begin with a few female voices, gradually building in emotional power, are superb.
And the dancing is a pleasure to watch. Whether deliberately mis-stepping or kicking their heels in formation for the signature One (One singular sensation, every little step she takes/ One thrilling combination, every move that she makes), this is a team in tune with one another.
The set design is appropriately simple, with mirrors used to great effect and nothing flashy to distract us from a key takeaway: that we are so much more than our resumes.
Directed with obvious empathy by Drew Anthony, A Chorus Line is a musical for grown-ups. For anyone who’s been rejected and keeps on stepping up. And who enjoys seeing talented West Australians putting it all on the line.
Pictured top: The cast of ‘A Chorus Line’ is putting on the glitz, despite the grit behind the scenes. Photo: Amanda Humphreys
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