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Reviewed: A Chorus Line at Curve

Experience the talent and tension of a Broadway dance audition.

A Chorus Line is at Curve until Saturday, July  13, 2024.
Photography by Marc Brenner

Coming out of the pandemic was a difficult time for all theatres. Even with productions that would previously have been considered 'bankers', very few venues experienced audiences flocking back to them with any urgency.

A Chorus Line was Curve's 2021 Christmas production, and our editor was amongst those to review it. Three years later, and Curve are staging a revival of their own production so that full houses can appreciate its balance of spectacle and nuance. This time, the review fell to me...

I will admit, this probably wouldn't have been a show I'd have picked to see otherwise. I missed the 2021 version, and just watched the Richard Attenborough-directed film a few months ago. As such, I was harbouring a "yeah, I know what happens, so I don't need to see it" attitude. But that's the beauty of being sent to do reviews – occasionally you get surprised by something.

So, spoiler alert... I loved this. Mostly.

If you've only seen the marketing, you'd be forgiven for thinking this is all gold and glamour all the time, but that's really not the case. A Chorus Line follows a group of professional dancers auditioning for a new Broadway show, under the watchful eye of choreographer/director Zach (Adam Cooper – returning from Curve's 2021 cast). It's a very stripped back production, taking place on the empty stage of the theatre where the show will eventually take place.

I've written in past reviews about how I feel under-qualified to give opinion on dance/movement-heavy productions, and this ought to be another case of the same.

However, A Chorus Line is fundamentally a character study of what it takes to be a dancer on Broadway. The skill, the perseverance, the luck, the preservation of one's body... It explores why these characters do this; why they need it. All of the dance is so ingrained into the story, that it connected with me in a way that I don't think I've experienced before.

For the most part, it also takes place in real-time (there are a few songs that serve as montages to move things along). So in real-time, that there's actually no interval – we experience the audition along with the performers – straight through. That might make the one hour 50 minute run-time a daunting prospect, but it flies by. I glanced at my watch at what I assumed was roughly an hour, and was surprised to discover we were actually 90 minutes in.

The opening sequence leading into "I Hope I Get It" is notorious within musical theatre circles – theatre kids across the world know this routine. I've seen videos of other Broadway casts doing it as a pre-show warm up, all in perfect unison. So there's a pressure to deliver, and this cast do exactly that.

It's actually done with minor imperfections – this is meant to be an audition after all, so certain auditionees don't pick it up immediately or are slightly behind the group. Having been the slightly-behind-person in auditions, it added such truth to the moment that it hooked me from the off.

The cast of A Chorus Line - Photography by Marc Brenner
The cast of A Chorus Line during the finale - Photography by Marc Brenner

Unfortunately, there was one element that really bothered me throughout: the giant screen.

The cast are intermittently filmed live and projected onto the back wall at several points throughout the show. It's a piece of theatrical technology that I first saw used at Curve in last year's production of Evita, and there, it worked. Director Nikolai Foster used it to chart Evita's rise in celebrity and her use of the media to enhance her profile.

Here, it's a distraction. The narrative justification would be that they're filming the auditionees for later review, but it didn't add enough value to feel like more than a gimmick for the sake of a gimmick. It struck me as a case of "we've bought this equipment, so we'd better use it".

My issue was that whenever a cast member was being projected, your eye naturally goes to the screen. This undermines the rest of the company on stage, who were often in the middle of complex and otherwise-engaging ensemble numbers. The show is often staged or even choreographed to accommodate the camera, which became particularly problematic when the camera lost its connection to the screen, and the cast performed moves and dialogue to where the camera should've been, but no longer was. Perform to the audience, not the gimmick.

It's such a shame, because this is an incredibly intimate story, and this brought unnecessary scale. Without the screen, this would be a five-star review, but I found it so detrimental to the piece as a whole, that I've had to mark it down.

But enough negativity, because there's plenty more positives to talk about.

There are many great performances in this production, but I will highlight a few. One of the stand out dance sequences was Cassie's (Carly Mercedes Dyer – also returning from the 2021 production) solo performance during "The Music and the Mirror". A captivating piece of movement, both Ellen Kane's choreography and Dyer's magnetic performance combined to great effect. I'm not sure if I've ever been spellbound before, but I unquestionably was here.

The 11 o'clock number, "What I Did For Love", is one of the show's most famous songs, and as soon as Diana (Jocasta Almgill) sang the first few notes, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

The company perform the number with a mixture of hope and weariness. It does an immaculate job of portraying the drain that comes from pursuing an artistic career and encountering failure and rejection on a daily basis, yet maintaining the conviction from self-belief that another day brings another opportunity.

And the finale (pictured above) was one of the purest "wow" moments I've experienced in a theatre. The lighting (spectacular throughout), music, costuming, choreography, and pyrotechnics combined to inspire one of the most unified standing ovations I've ever been part of.

But there was one thing that I really want to give special mention to. In a musical about dance, you wouldn't necessarily expect a spoken monologue to be amongst the highlights, but Manuel Pacific had other ideas.

(L-R) Archie Durrant (Mark Anthony), Manuel Pacific (Paul San Marco) and Jocasta Almgill (Diana Morales) - Photography by Marc Brenner
Archie Durrant, Manuel Pacific and Jocasta Almgill. Photography by Marc Brenner

Pacific plays auditionee Paul San Marco, who is challenged by Zach to dig deeper into his history and reveal more about his motivation and drive to become a dancer. The speech tells of Paul's coming out at Catholic school, performing in drag shows, and hiding it from his parents (until they arrive early at the stage door one night and discover his secret). Pacific's delivery as Paul recalls his father telling the producer to "Take care of my son" will smack you in the heart.

The entire monologue is absolutely sublime. Pacific holds the stage with ease (no mean feat as it's an absolute barn with the stripped-back set), and has the audience hooked on every single syllable. The emotion, the delivery, the vulnerability... I've been performing on stage for 16 years, and it was the simplest thing I've ever seen that I know I couldn't do. Bravo Manuel!

A Chorus Line brings a warm humanity to what is often a cold, emotionless process. You're watching the sausage get made, and it exposes the reality that things don't always work out for the characters you love. But that's Broadway, honey... "Kiss today goodbye, and point me towards tomorrow."


A Chorus Line is at Curve until Saturday, July 13, 2024. Tickets are available from the theatre website.


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