Last Updated on 8th December 2021
Gary Stringer reviews Nikolai Foster’s brand new production of A Chorus Line being presented at Curve Leicester.
A Chorus Line
7 December 2021
Adding serious sparkle to the festive season, Nikolai Foster directs an explosive new production of the evergreen musical A Chorus Line, a Made at Curve production, that forms the backbone of their winter season.
Following the unprecedented global pandemic that saw theatres dark and performers unemployed, this story of seventeen ambitious dancers battling for work on the titular chorus line is as topical as when it premiered on Broadway in 1975. Original creator Michael Bennett innovatively used real-life testimonies from dancers to add verity to a production that ran for 6’137 performances, picking up nine Tony Award nominations and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
These confessions add heart and a lot of humour to this musical, as well as heartache. Despite being a large ensemble, all the cast get a chance in the spotlight; Emily Barnett-Salter serves up sass as world-weary Sheila, Redmand Rance assured self-confidence as Mike Costa, and making his professional debut Jamie O’Leary is the naïve Mark Anthony. Barely pausing for breath during “Dance:Ten; Looks Three” Chloe Saunders almost brings the house down with an audacious recount of her journey from ugly duckling to silicone-enhanced sensation!
The seventeen are slowly eliminated by the fictional show’s director, the Machiavellian Zach, played by a commanding Adam Cooper. As well as their blood, sweat and tears, he also wants, demands his hopefuls’ secrets. This is perhaps to distract from the fact that he shares a few of his own with down on her luck Diana, a remarkable Lizzy-Rose Esin-Kelly who confidently sells the lengths she is prepared to go to for a paying gig as their history is revealed. Assisted by Taylor Walker as his assistant Larry, Zach conducts these auditions as confessionals revealing witty stories of plastic surgery, STIs, ballet trips, missed opportunities and harsh realities, but always with a smile fixed firmly in place. In a stunning turn, Ainsley Hall Ricketts as Paul, allows the smile to slip as he recounts his harrowing journey to overcome abuse. This showstopping moment lifts the curtain to highlight the spectre of exploitation lurking behind the scenes.
Every inch of the Curve’s vast stage, and Grace Smart’s set is utilised by Ellen Kane’s impressive choreography, the movement in perfect partnership with the jazzy tunes. In this age of ubiquitous prime time talent shows, where we the audience voyeuristically delight in the trials and tribulations of struggling artists, the use of live video footage makes these hopefuls stories even more intimate and the audience complicit, with mirrors cleverly used in the set design reflecting a distorted audience back to themselves.
Heading towards the finale and following the cast ruminating on the fleeting nature of fame and their physical prime, the much-loved standard “What I Did For Love” becomes a hymn to dedication and commitment, a paean to the hard work that underpins the glamour.
And what a finale, a singular sensation indeed as Howard Hudson’s incredible lighting becomes a character in its own right, almost blinding as it illuminates “One”, reaffirming both the performers and the audiences love affair with the stage, banishing the darkness at this most wonderful time of the year, following two very unsettled and uncertain years. A triumph.