The cast line up behind their resumés – photo © Leo White
I must confess that until today I had never seen a production of ‘A Chorus Line’. Not sure why, but I managed to miss it. So I went to the Threshold Theatre production at Norwich Playhouse with no preconceptions, and no real idea how it goes.
The show starts with the cast ambling onto stage while the audience are still settling, giving an air of informality that sets the scene for a drama that is all about how big stage shows are built from scratch, and the dreams, hopes and disappointments of those who want to star in them. The action is set entirely within the rehearsal space for the theatre, saving any need for fancy sets but concentrating our attention on the people involved.
James Bell plays Zach, the director of the show and of the casting we are watching, and Philippa Northcliffe is Lori, his assistant and dance captain. He has 21 dancers who want to be in the show, and needs to whittle them down to the eight who will get contracts. To achieve this they each have to perform both together and separately, and Zach also gets them to tell us about their lives. This device gets us to hear 17 little personal stories of the lives of the dancers, as each of them compete for a place on the chorus line.
The casting rehearsal format of this show does of course give the real cast of Threshold’s production a chance for each of the 17 featured performers to show off their talent, and boy do they show it off! There are no passengers on this wagon, each and every cast member earn their place on the Playhouse stage. The pathos and engagement of this show comes from the vignettes of every individual story that the characters tell about themselves. Set on Broadway there is a strong New York flavour to tales they tell, and issues including sexual identity, childhood insecurity and lack of confidence are given plenty of coverage. There are hints of abuse, but this show was written in 1975, long before #MeToo took the lid off murky misbehaviour in show business.
There is, of course, a stifled love theme throughout when it emerges that Zach is particularly fierce on one hopeful, Cassie (Kathryn White) who once lived with him but has moved on. Kathryn gives a very capable and moving performance as Cassie, the star who wants to just get back in the chorus line and dance again. Cassie may have moved on, but can Zach?
With a stage cast of 23 there is a lot going on but the Threshold cast develop strong and credible characters from the very start. Norwich offers a tad less diversity than 70s New York so some of the rather stereotypical characters from the original show have mutated slightly to fit their performer but the visual variety of this cast at the start leaves you in no doubt that there is work to be done to perfect that gold-sequinned immaculate chorus line that we get to see later. It is invidious to single out performers from a uniformly talented cast, but two in particular caught my eye, Nic Gordon as Paul and Emily Sidnell as the gloriously potty-mouthed Val. Tell me who your favourites are in the comments below.
With music by Marvin Hamlisch and a lot of high energy choreography this is a heartwarming feel good show given a superb rendering by Threshold Theatre. It was greeted by spontaneous applause throughout the show, and in the Playhouse bar after the show cast members were still popping with excitement after a faultless first night performance. They should be, they have made a show to be really proud of.
A Chorus Line by Threshold Theatre is at Norwich Playhouse until 4th June, with performances at 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30. Go to www.thresholdtheatrecompany.co.uk for more information
To book tickets, please visit norwichtheatre.org or call 01603 630 000.
A Chorus Line
Norwich Theatre Playhouse
31 May – 4 June
Ticket price: £19
Age recommendation: 12+
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 31st May 2022