In a Fringe which is rich in autobiographical stories – whether solo shows or in scripted drama – A Chorus Line is maybe the ultimate theatrical blend of life stories. Created from the testimony of auditionees in a rehearsal studio in 1974 it was then taken forward into a full scale production at the Public Theatre before becoming the longest running musical on Broadway for 20+ years. Last night I saw these stories freshly minted through the eyes of a University cast. Straight reproductions of the original can seem rather old fashioned or even tame to us now – as our understanding of gender and sexuality has changed, along with our expectation of dance on stage. Here, in the tender loving care of Edinburgh University I should not have worried. I was cheering along with parents of the performers, first time viewers of the show/story, and I am sure a few other old theatre folk like me. Many congratulations to the whole company.
The songs, characters, and leading actors in Chorus Line have woven throughout my adult life since I first saw the Broadway Transfer cast at Drury Lane Theatre in 1977. I went on to see Petra Siniawski take over the role of Cassie at short notice when the international Musical Theatre star Elizabeth Seal shone too bright on the line. Life imitated art as anyone who knows the show will understand. [I share a birthday with Elizabeth and it is always a facebook pleasure to wish each other well, and I have gone on to work with this lovely artist in other projects].
I came to ballet, jazz and Graham late, I guess – at around 15 – taught by the amazing Nan Wills who also trained the first West End Sheila, Geraldine Gardner. Geraldine went on (in her too short life) to be a great friend/ally with whom I spent a joyous Christmas playing House Manager opposite her Aladdin. Whilst at Bristol Hippodrome we were both in discussion for roles in the opening of Cats. She went on to originate the role of Bombalurina at the New London. I didn’t move to become house manager of the New London.
Spin forward a few years and I attended the memorial service of one of my school dance colleagues, Edgar Newman, who went on to train at The Place and to have a too short career in London and New York before being taken by Aids far far too young. At the end of his memorial a lone male singer took centre stage and, unaccompanied, sang the Marvin Hamlisch/ Edward Kleban closing ballad from Chorus Line:
Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can’t regret
What I did for love, what I did for love
In 1977 I saw the show 9 times and over the years I have seen the London/Touring revival by Baayork Lee (original Connie) and in a Japanese production. Last night was my first time seeing a student company delivering this complex drama and even more demanding choreographic marathon. I do believe that Bob Avian and Michael Bennett would have been proud to see their creative vision realised on this (in Broadway terms) postage stamp stage. The Hamlisch & Kleban songs were delivered with immense heart and clarity. There are clearly members of the Edinburgh University Savoy Group http://eusog.org/ cast who will move forward into the profession, whilst others will take this total-sell-out experience forward into their business lives.
This is a show about ‘triple threats’, those extraordinary individuals who can act their socks off, sing with phenomenal power, and dance in perfect synch with their fellow performers. Anyone who decides to “put themselves on the line” – literally in this case with A Chorus Line or our theatre industry – deserves all the cheering possible. EUSOG gathered an amazing ensemble of talent and delivered One Singular Sensation. Thank you to everyone involved – next time maybe EUSOG branded tissues for those crying in the audience.
Sadly, unless you have a ticket already you won’t get to see the show because it is totally sold out – so instead check out the rest of St Augustine’s/Paradise programme or check out other amazing new musicals being shared all over the Fringe. Tonight I’m off to see Hunchback at the Edinburgh Academy produced by Captivate Theatre – the company behind the smash hit EdFringe Sunshine on Leith https://www.captivatetheatre.com/edfringe. My first time seeing this Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz musical with book by Peter Parnell and Victor Hugo