A Chorus Line

Date 27th April 2017
Society University of Manchester Musical Theatre Society
Venue Council Chambers
Type of Production Musical
Director Lucy Scott
Musical Director Andy Davies
Choreographer Eleanor Lang

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

What Michael Bennett - the illustrious choreographer and director who shaped this musical from a series of taped interviews with seasoned dancers - wanted to expose with this show was blatantly displayed in this production.

Lucy Scott, the director of this UMMTS venture, fully understood and exposed exactly what ‘A Chorus Line’ is all about with a blatant affection to the individual characters and an evident heady zeal for the production as a whole. Lucy had adapted the piece ever so slightly for the text to translate with the cast she had, with fewer men (two characters were merged into one) and some were tweaked slightly to accommodate the race of the actor, favourably done with a benevolence towards the content.

The inspiration for this production when it was crafted was simply for those people who’re generally seen as an onstage shiny, anonymous throng, human scenery with rhythm and flexible limbs … “A Chorus Line”. Shine a spotlight (literally and figuratively) on the components of this dancing machine to unearth the kinds of confessions usually reserved for psychiatrists’ couches and that pretty much sums up the facet of this show.     

As we, the audience, start to like the characters based on their stories as they each expose moments of their past – we start to hope they get the gig after hearing a bit about their life’s – with this in mind it seems that ‘A Chorus Line’ could quite well have provided a prototype for the X Factor sob story – though, thankfully, nothing about this show resembles the Cowell Factor and there’s not any underscoring that resembles Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ behind any of these characters sad bits.

The grand finale of this show is probably its most famous and celebrated signature. Although it sounded marvellous I can’t deny that I was somewhat underwhelmed with how it looked. To go to the effort of obtaining the ideal costumes felt like a waste of time when all I could notice was the mishmash collection of footwear (colours and styles) which was wholly out of place for a number such as this. The choreography of the finale wasn’t as drilled or as clean as some of the other sequences. I appreciate that there is a lot of dance in this production but nevertheless I feel priority should have been given to such a legendary and admired finale.  

A fair amount of the dancing throughout felt like a stretch too far for the majority of this cast. The movement resembled an almost accurate shadow of the original production which is no easy undertaking and, lets remind ourselves, was crafted to be performed by some of the best dancers in the business. This is the most challenging dance ensemble work I’ve seen this society take on and it’s certainly a case of throwing themselves in at the deep end. I’d much rather see choreography which is tamed down to the casts capabilities if it’s to be performed as clean and expertly executed sequences rather than movement which is way out of the performers reach. I could see how many of the cast were relishing the challenge, which I wholly applaud, and no doubt many of them felt ample reward for managing to achieve what they did in a relatively short space of time.

The score for this show is big, brassy and typically ‘Broadway’, the tempos were sometimes on the leisurely side and the trumpets occasionally struggled to blare out those top notes during ‘Music And The Mirror’ though overall, Hamlisch’s music (and Kleban’s lyrics) were still a triumph.

Vocally, the cast showcased excellent ensemble skill and each solo was a delight with Morgan Meredith as Maggie making the biggest impression during ‘At The Ballet’. Belting out those money notes is all well and good but more than that, this cast could deliver a masterclass in the art of acting through song which was expertly delivered in this production from each and every member of this cast.

The captivating Kiera Battersby delivered a powerhouse performance as Cassie, a former headliner on her way down. Kiera makes the libretto sound as though those words were never written down, testament of a fine actress. Her entire act was beautifully brought to life with outstanding vocals and demonstrated herself to be a nifty mover too, a stellar act and well…a simply excellent and most enjoyable performance.

Tom Carswell held the audience in his palm during his monologue as Paul. This is one of the last characters we get to hear about but one which certainly leaves a lasting impression – a superbly controlled and revealed monologue which had the audience gripped.

‘A Chorus Line’ will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve adored this show for many years and regularly appreciate its score, the film and revivals. It was also the first musical I saw on Broadway and it’s never failed to leave an impression on me. This presentation, despite its few gripes, was no exception. This production had raw, impressive and incredibly enjoyable talent. Thank you for an excellent evening.