Review – She Loves Me, Menier Chocolate Factory, 29th January 2017

She Loves MeI’m probably as guilty as anyone else in thinking that Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock wrote Fiddler on the Roof and probably not much else. Wrong! Together they wrote nine other shows, including She Loves Me, an adaptation of the 1937 play Illatszertár, by Hungarian dramatist Miklos Laszlo, with whose works I am sure we are all highly familiar. Surprisingly perhaps, the play was also the original basis for three films, including the (relatively) recent You’ve Got Mail. She Loves Me was moderately successful artistically, but didn’t make any money, with a run of 302 performances on Broadway and 189 in the West End. A film, that was to star Julie Andrews, failed to materialise. Nevertheless, a revival in London in 1994 ran for a year and won many awards, and a revival on Broadway in 2016 was very successful – so now we see it back in London at the Menier.

slm5The scene is mainly set in Mr Maraczek’s perfume shop in Budapest, where diligent and respectful sales clerks bend over backwards to satisfy the demanding hoity-toity ladies of the Hungarian capital. Miss Ritter and Mr Kodaly have an on-off relationship which seems to be more off than on as they argue and then spoon despite Maraczek’s disapproval. The second-in-command, Mr Nowack, has been writing love letters to a “dear friend” whom he has never met and he’s getting very agitated about the prospect of finally meeting her. One day a new face appears at the shop – Miss Balash – who impresses Maraczek enough to give her a job. However, she and Nowack start off on the wrong foot and before long they can’t stand the sight of each other. Yes, you’ve guessed it; she’s the recipient of his love letters and neither of them realise it. What happens when the two pen pals finally decide to meet for dinner? Well, you’ll just have to see the show to find out.

slm4It’s a really beautiful, charming, funny and exquisitely musical musical. Paul Farnsworth’s set, which utilises four small revolving stages to transform a Budapest street into an upper class haven of retail delights, is stunning – although I did find the acting space provided for first two scenes of the second act – the hospital and Amalia’s bedroom – a little cramped. Catherine Jayes’ band plays Jerry Bock’s entertaining and beautiful melodies with loads of fun and character, and Sheldon Harnick’s witty and thoughtful lyrics are in very safe hands with a fine cast and sensitive direction by Matthew White. There are a lot of musical numbers in the show, and I appreciated how well each song either progressed the plot or gave us valuable character insights. It’s not a stop-start musical, but rather the book and the songs join seamlessly to create a satisfyingly well-structured piece.

slm3Scarlett Strallen leads the cast in the role of Amalia Balash, with a fine portrayal of both the enthusiastic shop girl head over heels in love and the feisty, obstinate colleague from hell. She sings immaculately – well you knew that already from her appearances in A Chorus Line and Candide. She really nails the humour of the role too – her tear-stained slumping around the bedroom was hilarious, and of course she expresses Harnick’s superb observations with telling accuracy. She’s perfectly matched by Menier favourite Mark Umbers, whom we loved in Sweet Charity and Merrily We Roll Along, with his essential earnestness and hilarious portrayal of Nowack deviously wriggling out of a difficult situation. He sings with great tone and warmth and has a great stage presence.

slm2There are plenty of other show-stealing performances on offer – Katherine Kingsley is officially fabulous as Ilona Ritter, characterising her as a working-class girl whose head is turned – eventually – by the lure of books; the downtrodden voice she gives Miss Ritter is simply brilliant. Dominic Tighe confidently expresses Kodaly’s superiority and smugness, and I’m always impressed by how nifty he is on his feet for a big chap. Alastair Brookshaw’s Sipos is an entertainingly humble everyday guy, with a little more of the wheeler-dealer about him than you might expect; Callum Howells’ delivery boy Arpad is bright as a button and keen as mustard, and Les Dennis plays Maraczek with avuncular generosity until he has cause to doubt the world around him. But for scene-stealing, you only have to look to Norman Pace’s hilarious head waiter at the Café Imperiale, managing his bumbling staff and his unsuspecting customers alike with ruthless authority.

slm1Mrs Chrisparkle and I were in complete agreement that this is a beautiful and classy production that absolutely brings the best out of the cast and the music. But we also agreed that the show itself is extraordinarily lightweight. It’s pure, insignificant light entertainment with absolutely no substance whatsoever. Given the fact that its subjects include adultery, a suicide attempt and broken relationships, there’s not an ounce of gravitas or a provocative moment in the whole two-and-a-half hours. It’s truly a soufflé in an art form where you have the potential to be a Chateaubriand. Depending on your point of view, this may be the perfect escapism from a world of Trump and Brexit. For me, however, it makes the show borderline irrelevant. There’s no doubting the talent that brings all this together, but on the whole I’d prefer to take home memories of something a little more substantial. One year later Harnick and Bock would give the world Fiddler on the Roof, with all its important observations and superb character creativity. Perhaps this show just came one year too early.

Production photos by Alastair Muir

Review of the year 2013 – The Fourth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

About this time every year an esteemed panel including myself and no one else meets to assess the relative brilliance of all the shows we’ve seen the previous year so that we can recognise and celebrate the artistic fantasticity of the arts world in Northampton, Sheffield, Leicester and beyond! The coveted 2013 Chrisparkles relate to shows I have seen and blogged between 6th January 2013 and 16th January 2014. Let’s not keep anyone in further suspense – let the glittering ceremony begin!

As always, the first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical).

I saw nine dance productions last year, from which it was quite easy to shortlist a top five, but the top three are:

In 3rd place, the fantastic combination of skill and artistry embedded in the October programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Derngate, Northampton.

In 2nd place, the hilarious but incredibly accurate and beautiful dancing of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, as seen at the Birmingham Hippodrome in February.

In 1st place, the consistently rewarding and fulfilling version of Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, that we saw at the Curve, Leicester, in November.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

For some reason we only saw four concerts in 2013, and these are the top three:

In 3rd place, the Last Night of the Derngate Proms, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Derngate, in June.

In 2nd place, Janina Fialkowska plays Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, plus Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, with the RPO at the Derngate in January.

In 1st place, Alexander Shelley conducts Scheherezade, together with Peter Jablonski’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with the RPO at the Derngate in April.

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This is the all-purpose, everything else category that includes pantos, circuses, reviews and anything else hard to classify.

In 3rd place, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2014.

In 2nd place, and maybe misclassified here but I can’t quite bring myself to call this artistic endeavour a play; Cooped, by Spymonkey, at the Royal, Northampton, in January 2013.

In 1st place, the stunning tango extravaganza that was Midnight Tango, with Vincent and Flavia off Strictly Come Dancing, at the Derngate in July.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

We saw seven big star name stand-up comedians this year, and they were all excellent, but these are my top four:

In 4th place, Jason Manford and his First World Problems, at the Derngate, in July.

In 3rd place, Jack Dee at the Derngate, in September.

In 2nd place, Stewart Lee in Much a-Stew About Nothing, also at the Derngate, in September, who was just pipped by

In 1st place, Micky Flanagan and his Back in the Game tour show at the Derngate in May.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

Of the thirty or more comics that we’ve seen at Screaming Blue Murder last year seventeen made the shortlist, and the top five are:

In 5th place, an extremely funny guy with a quirky view on urban life, Nathan Caton (18th October)

In 4th place, with an almost unique ability to make a young audience rock with laughter without any swearing, Paul Kerensa (25th January)

In 3rd place, the fantastic mix of gay and Asperger’s that goes to create Robert White (8th February)

In 2nd place, musical comedy genius Christian Reilly (8th March)

In 1st place, the most mischievous comic on the circuit, Markus Birdman (8th November).

Best Musical.

Like last year, this is a combination of new musicals and revivals, and we had a dozen to choose from. The top four were easy to identify; but the fifth place show was really hard to decide from the sixth place show. However, the panel have made their decision, and I’m sticking with it.

In 5th place, the re-invigorated Chicago at the Leicester Curve in December.

In 4th place, the beautiful and moving The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 3rd place, the riveting revival of The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 2nd place, the outrageous and hilarious The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, the painstakingly caring and reassuringly faithful revival of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best New Play.

As always, this is my definition of a new play – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. Six to choose from, these are the top three:

In 3rd place, despite its cackling disruptive audience, the very inventive play version of The Full Monty, at the Lyceum Theatre Sheffield in February.

In 2nd place, the thoughtful and imaginative Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 1st place, the timelessly relevant and beautifully adapted To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

Best Revival of a Play.

A shortlist of sixteen productions, but in the end relatively easy to sort out the top five:

In 5th place, the first of three Michael Grandage productions as part of his long season at the Noel Coward Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in November.

In 4th place, the hard-hitting yet strangely funny Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio, Leicester, in October.

In 3rd place, Michael Grandage’s production of Peter Nichols’ Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward in January.

In 2nd place, Michael Grandage’s stunning production of The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward in August.

In 1st place, the only production in 45 years of theatregoing that I loved so much that I had to see it again the next day, Cal McCrystal’s officially fabulous revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s Mr Whatnot at the Royal, Northampton in April.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

So many terrific performances to choose from but I have a top five:

In 5th place, Hayley Gallivan’s brutally treated Nancy in Oliver! at the Sheffield Crucible in January 2014.

In 4th place, Leigh Zimmerman’s indestructibly sassy Sheila in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

In 3rd place, Cynthia Erivo’s incredibly moving Celie in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Julie Atherton’s tear-jerkingly superb Emily in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 1st place, Scarlett Strallen’s stunning Cassie in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March, and for her ebullient Cunegonde in Candide at the Menier Chocolate Factory in December.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

A really tough category and with so many great performances not getting a mention, but here’s my top five:

In 5th place, David Hunter’s triumphantly resilient John in The Hired Man at the Leicester Curve Studio in April.

In 4th place, Gavin Creel’s selfishly wonderful Elder Price in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 3rd place, Christopher Colquhoun’s savage then partly redeemed Mister in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in August.

In 2nd place, Jared Gertner for his gutsy buddy-from-hell performance as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in March.

In 1st place, John Partridge’s role-defining performance as the workaholic, passionate choreographer Zach in A Chorus Line at the London Palladium in March.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Some great performances here!

In 5th place, Isla Blair in The Lyons at the Menier Chocolate Factory in October.

In 4th place Felicity Kendal in Relatively Speaking at Wyndham’s Theatre in June.

In 3rd place Nora Connolly in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October.

In 2nd place, the other half of that double act, Michele Moran in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Curve Studio Leicester in October and also for Dancing at Lughnasa at the Royal, Northampton in May.

In 1st place, and no surprise, Dame Judi Dench for her performance of consummate ease as Alice Liddell in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Eighteen actors in my shortlist, and I whittled it down to this:

In 5th place, Ansu Kabia for To Sir With Love at the Royal, Northampton, in September.

In 4th place, the magnetic stage presence of David Walliams as Bottom in Michael Grandage’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Noel Coward Theatre in November.

In 3rd place, Ben Whishaw for his threateningly unhinged performance as Baby in Mojo at the Harold Pinter Theatre in January 2014 and for his compellingly thoughtful performance as Peter Davies in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in May.

In 2nd place, Simon Russell Beale’s flamboyant performance as Terri Dennis in Privates on Parade at the Noel Coward Theatre in January 2013.

In 1st place, Daniel Radcliffe’s totally convincing performance as Billy in the Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noel Coward Theatre in August.

Theatre of the Year.

In addition to my usual shortlist of the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, Sheffield Theatres and the Menier Chocolate Factory, I have to add the Leicester Curve and also the Noel Coward Theatre for its Michael Grandage season. Taking everything into account – the standard of productions, the comfort of the theatre, the box-office experience, and the general feelgood feeling you get when you’re there, it’s a tight squeeze this year but I am again going to declare my favourite theatre of the year to be the Royal and Derngate, Northampton! God bless her and all who sail in her!

And thanks to you, gentle reader, for still coming back to read my random thoughts on all the shows we’re lucky enough to see. Hope you all have a very Happy New Theatregoing Year!

Review – Candide, Menier Chocolate Factory, 21st December 2013

CandideOnce again the Menier proves itself to be the most versatile of spaces. When you descend the steps to the auditorium you never know whether you’ll be walking left, right or straight on; seated in front of a traditional stage or in the round or in traverse; with acting areas just in front of you or all around you. If you’re a regular attendee at the Menier there’s a particular thrill you get when you enter the auditorium just to see how they’ve jiggled it all around this time.

Fra FeeFor this lively production of Candide, the Scottish Opera version of 1988 (the programme gives you a good history of the various different stages this show has endured over the ages), our arrival is greeted with garlands and pendants surrounding a central square area to suggest an eighteenth century fête. The seats are partly recovered with colourful glittery material (not overly comfortable to be honest!) and the whole place has the feeling of middle Europe celebration. We are in Westphalia, which I always thought was as imaginary as Ruritania, but is apparently an area of north-west Germany. But not for long, as jolly musical number after jolly musical number takes us on a tour of Europe, then (after the interval) South America, stopping by at Surinam before our finale in Venice.

Scarlett StrallenCandide is, of course, probably the best known work of Voltaire, and a copy of it has sat on my bookshelf since 1979, when I bought it because I thought it was something “I Ought To Read”. I regret that, to this date, it retains the same status. It’s a kind of semi-picaresque story where our eponymous hero follows his fortune all around the world, he and his circle getting into the most ridiculous scrapes that would prove fatal for the rest of us, but he (and they) nevertheless bounce back time after time again, smelling of roses and playing the national anthem on a penny whistle (figuratively speaking). Voltaire’s main task is to satirise the “this is the best of all possible worlds” philosophy of the tutor Pangloss, of whom and of which Candide is a devotee, and to highlight the resilience of human nature as literally nothing seems to damage the indomitable spirit (and indeed unbreakable bodies) of Candide and his pals. In that respect, the show is very faithful to the book, (as far as I can make out without having read it) with its pacey progress through a whirlwind of globetrotting adventure. I think its pace is vital to the success of the show; if it were to get ponderous you’d start thinking too deeply about its nonsensical coincidences and Lazarus-like risings from the dead, and that would probably spoil it. With Cunégonde, Maximilian and Parquette constantly re-appearing, Mrs Chrisparkle was reminded of Nicholas Nickleby’s happy-ending Romeo and Juliet, where everyone bounded back to life at the end because they didn’t take the poison or the sword wound was just a scratch. Except for poor Tybalt, of course.

James DreyfusI mentioned the jolly songs; to be fair, not all the songs are jolly. For every two or three jolly songs, I’d say, you get a sincere and meaningful ballad sung by Candide. I don’t mean to pick a fight with Leonard Bernstein over his score. It starts off very promisingly with the well-known overture that most orchestras like to include in their more upbeat classical concerts; it goes on to include a few witty patter songs, and some wonderful juxtaposition of comedy with tragedy, as in the blissful “Auto da fe” where members of society have a great time watching the Spanish Inquisition at work; and it also has some stand-out individual moments, such as Cunégonde’s Glitter and Be Gay (like an eighteenth century version of Madonna’s Material Girl) and the Old Lady’s “I am easily assimilated”. You can also see the expert hand of Adam Cooper at work with the choreography in some of the bigger numbers, enabling grand dance gestures to develop in the small space available to fantastic effect. However, I did find that whenever the character of Candide felt the urge to sing something sincere about love or his lot in life, the songs got a bit, well, boring. Sorry. No one’s fault except Bernstein’s, or possibly whichever of the wide choice of lyricists credited to this show might be responsible for the words in those particular songs.

Jackie CluneThe only other slight quibble I have with this production is the decision to have some of the action take place on what is effectively a narrow balcony that goes all the way around the back of the auditorium behind the back row of seats, means that no seat actually has an unobstructed view of all the action. We sat in row A, as we always do, because I like to get as close as possible to the action, but it meant that several times we had to turn around to see what was going on behind us, or, when that got a bit uncomfortable, just go into “radio” mode for a few minutes and listen to, rather than watch, the show progress. For this production, the back row probably gives you the best view of all. Mind you, I’m not complaining about being close to the action. When the characters were introduced to us in the opening song, to illustrate how friendly the lovely Paquette could be with gentlemen, she decided to perch upon my lap and give me a smile and a cuddle. That was nice. I gave her a smile and a squeeze back, and gently inclined my head towards her ample bosom. It was only later on I discovered that Paquette was riddled with syphilis. Thanks a lot Paquette, how am I going to explain that to Mrs C? Actually there were a number of very amusing moments when certain members of the audience were given little tasks. One gentleman became the King of the Bulgars; the lady on the other side of the aisle from me ended up holding the gondolier’s paddle, which was bigger than both of them. Such little tricks all help to keep you involved in the show.

David ThaxtonAs always at the Menier, it’s a company jam-packed with talent and style. Fra Fee (with possibly the shortest name in showbusiness) is perfect in the role of Candide, all wide-eyed innocence and open-hearted good nature. He’s like an Everyman figure into whom the rest of the world collides as he makes his merry way through life; and even if I did find some of his songs a little boring, he has a fine singing voice with perfect clarity and expression. The love of his life, Cunégonde, is played by Scarlett Strallen, fresh from her amazing performance as Cassie in A Chorus Line, and her singing and stage presence are just stunning. She stops the show with her fantastic coloratura in Glitter and Be Gay and conveys both the comedy and the tragedy of the role beautifully.

Ben LewisI was really impressed with the performance of James Dreyfus as Pangloss (and Cacambo, and Martin) – he too has a great voice, a fantastic command of the stage and a natural feel for comedy. The other really superb performance comes from Jackie Clune (great as Billy Elliot’s mum a few years back) as the Old Lady – much fun to be made by the fact she has no other name – who sings fantastically and gives us very funny physical comedy with coping with just one buttock (you’ll have to see the show for more information). If you’re in the front row you might have a very amusing conversation with her just after the interval as she wanders on and starts moaning about the fact that she’s not playing Cunégonde; “what’s the fuss? It’s only a D sharp”. The rest of the cast give tremendous support, with Cassidy Janson a beautiful and mischievous Paquette, David Thaxton a delightfully pompous Maximilian, and Michael Cahill and Ben Lewis taking on eight roles between them, each with their own strong identity and great comic timing.

A perfect choice for a festive season show, full of feel-good factor and a great sense of fun. Fantastic costumes, a great band and some superb performances. Definitely not to be missed!

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – yet again – London Palladium, 31st August 2013

A Chorus LineThis was my fourth time seeing this production of A Chorus Line in London, my fourteenth time since 1976. If you’d like to take a look at my review from February, it’s here, our visit in June is here, my trip with my Godson in July it’s here, or if you just want to hear about the last night, read on!

Scarlett StrallenLet me take you back, gentle reader, to the last night of A Chorus Line at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in March 1979. A full house, naturally packed with fans, of course. The lights dimmed to signal the start of the show, which generated a huge round of applause that only died down once the show had started. Warm, loving rounds of applause followed each song as the show progressed. At the emotional culmination, when Diana, played by Miss Diane Langton, finished singing “What I Did For Love”, the applause was sustained, and sustained, and sustained… and Miss Langton was choking back the tears. In that 70s production, once the lights dimmed on the glitzily dressed performers doing the “One” finale, you never saw them again for a final curtain call; apart from on that last night, when the lights went back up again to reveal a cast who were a blancmange of tears, waves, shouts and every emotion under the sun.

Victoria Hamilton-BarrittFast forward to the last night of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium on August 31st 2013. The same full house, the same plethora of fans, crackling with anticipation and the same big round of applause when it started. “God I hope I get it…” I have to mention again here the great, brief appearance of Georgie Ashford as Trisha, one of the early eliminees, giving it all she’s got with her wayward wacky dancing that’s hilarious but not cruel. The atmosphere in the audience, this feeling of “fan love” is just like 1979, I thought. Then something different happened. It was at that point near the end of the opening number when the cast all walk up to the front of the stage together, hold the resumés in front of their faces and the orchestra hits that funky, stabbing, portentous chord and they stay still for probably four chords, until Larry collects the CVs. Not this time. Massive applause drowns out the first four chords; then the second four chords. It’s not letting up for the next four chords. From my seat I can see Ashley Nottingham (Larry)’s face go boggle-eyed with delight at the reaction from the audience – the resumés hide everyone else’s faces so we can’t see them but you sense an overwhelming wave of “OMG”-ness is about to hit this stage.

Leigh ZimmermanThe show continues. Harry Francis is playing Mike as the cockiest New York Italian, all slicked back hair and spilling over with machismo. Later in the show the girls either side of him accuse him of being a sex maniac, and whereas other Mikes have looked shocked and surprised at the news, this Mike just looks substantially chuffed! Whereas Adam Salter’s Mike thrilled us with his tumbling acrobatics, Mr Francis’ “I Can Do That” brings out the best of his ballet skills with a series of great fouettés. Cue for another sustained round of applause, so long that it’s about now that some of the performers, Mr Francis included, begin to look a little bit shocked.

Harry FrancisEd Currie’s performance as Bobby is just sheer bliss. His voice wanders up and down the vocal scale capturing Bobby’s weirdness and self-deprecation to perfection. Superb, and fully deserving of its own round of applause, which it duly receives. On to a beautiful performance of “At The Ballet”, with Leigh Zimmerman and Daisy Maywood on top form; and when Vicki Lee Taylor (Maggie)’s soaring yet serene top note gets a huge reaction she seems visibly moved. Another great performance of “Sing” follows, with Frances Dee’s Kristine just missing the notes with absolute conviction and credibility, and Simon Hardwick’s Al going all out to calm her down.

Gary WoodMichael Steedon gives Mark’s monologue great life and humour and he really revels in that discussion with the priest about gonorrhoea. Supersub Katy Hards performs Connie as a Southern States belle of Summer Stock, and her vocal drawl adds to a great reinterpretation of the role. I loved her reaction to Larry’s suggestion she should relax during the Tap Combination, with the result that she flops about the stage like a rag doll. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Diana)’s so excited that she’s going to the High School of Performing Arts and gives the most life-affirming rendition of “Nothing” which gets so much applause that she has no choice but to talk through it or we’d never get finished. I did appreciate her returning to Michael Bennett’s original choreography of “be a table, be a sports car, ice-cream cone” (one for the die-hard purists there!)

Rebecca HerszenhornMore superb characterisation follows with Andy Rees’ lugubrious Greg, James T Lane’s keen-as-mustard Richie and Lucy Jane Adcock’s deliriously dotty Judy. When the whole “Hello Twelve…” montage is complete, there is a sea of cheers and whoops that takes forever to die down and now some of the dancers are really beginning to look affected. I can see at least three faces on stage that appear to be saying to themselves “Don’t cry, whatever you do…”, and that’s just the guys. When you think this part of the show can’t get better, Rebecca Herszenhorn gives the best performance of “Dance Ten Looks Three” I’ve seen her give all year, turning Val into the truly ultimate sexpot.

Simon HardwickI always sense that things get more serious once Cassie is called back for her one-to-one with Zach; you’re really into the meat of the show now. Scarlett Strallen gives an amazing “Music and the Mirror”, and when Zach recalls how she “stopped two shows cold”, you can just see how she did it. Her whole performance was brilliant – not just the dancing, but also her understanding of the role brought out the character’s humour, her introspection and anger; and you can really see how the break up of the relationship with the cold Zach, played with businesslike efficiency and eerie domination by Gary Watson, affected her deeply. Very long sustained applause and even some dotted standing ovations at Miss Strallen’s performance. Gary Wood takes to the stage and raises Paul’s monologue to new heights with fantastic changes of pace and terrific vocal light and shade. I felt I understood Paul so much more with this performance. Even though it’s not a musical number, the audience gave Mr Wood a great reaction once the scene was over. The next scenes: the rehearsal of One, the emotionally raw discussion between Cassie and Zach, and the comedy and tragedy of the Tap Combination were all performed with true heart and conviction.

Ashley NottinghamThere’s a lot of poignancy in some of those final scenes, particularly when the show is closing. Nothing runs forever, right? The only chorus line you can depend on this business is the one at un-em-ploy-ment! Lately I’ve been thinking of opening a dance studio – am I copping out or am I growing up? “But if today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” Cue gulps of emotion from both stage and audience. Miss Hamilton-Barritt delivers the true message of the show with “What I Did For Love” as tears run down the faces of her colleagues surrounding her. It soars, as it always does, when the chorus comes in, and she completes the song with all the emotional intensity of that final night, an intensity so strong that she has to give way to the tears immediately afterwards.

Strike the setWhen Zach makes his final choice of four and four, Harry Francis turns his tears of emotion into tears of victory for Mike’s success, Ed Currie hides his face and Simon Hardwick simply crumples up with emotion. Naturally it was a full standing ovation for the finale, and for Scarlett Strallen and Leigh Zimmerman’s final messages of gratitude from the stage. Leigh Zimmerman really summed it up with her final words – “don’t cry that it’s ended, smile because it happened – it’s what we did for love.” The end of the line? For today, maybe, at the Palladium. But for anyone who’s been personally affected by this show, the memories, the emotions and the associations that have formed over the past seven months will remain.

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – again – London Palladium, 17th July 2013

A Chorus LineForgive me Father for I have sinned; it’s been seven weeks since my last visit to A Chorus Line. All those excited #ACLoholic tweets crossing back and forth cyberspace were making me jealous, but I knew I was pushing my luck suggesting yet another trip with Mrs Chrisparkle. It’s not that she doesn’t love it – it’s just that she has a more balanced (i.e sane) outlook than me. Thus it was that yesterday I went to the matinee with my 16 year old Godson, Bad Wolf (it’s his twitter name, who am I to judge?)

Adam SalterLove for A Chorus Line was instilled in him through the placenta as his mother adores the show; she was introduced to it by her husband who, as a teenager, saw it with me four times during its run at Drury Lane. As Bad Wolf and I enjoyed our pre-theatre lunch in Bella Italia across the street from the Palladium, I asked, “so, are you looking forward to the show then?” He eyed me with teenage derision. “It’s A Chorus Line, isn’t it?” Then he shrugged his shoulders with that “don’t you know anything” look. I took that to mean, “yes I’m looking forward to it enormously Chris and thank you very much for treating me to this nice lunch.”

Ed CurrieIf you’re looking for an impartial, balanced review of A Chorus Line then I’m afraid you won’t find it here. If you check back on my blogs of our February and June visits, you’ll see how deeply rooted this show is in my soul, and if I were to pick away at any perceived structural flaws, self-indulgent aspects or character criticisms, then I might as well tear my own arm off. And I’m not going to do that. Trust me when I say it is the American Musical Supreme, but more than that, it’s an examination – nay celebration – of vulnerable people under pressure coming to terms with their careers, their relationships, their pasts, their futures, their lives. Add in Marvin Hamlisch’s incredible score, Michael Bennett’s exhilarating choreography and the cast’s superb talent and you’ve got an unforgettable work of theatrical art to cherish.

Frances Dee But sadly, it’s going to close early. A few weeks ago, Mrs C and I took a sneaky week’s Mediterranean cruise, and we were discussing theatre with our dining companions one evening, when I mentioned how fond I was of A Chorus Line. “Ach,” said our softly spoken Scottish friend, “it’s closin’ earrrly ‘cos apparently it’s no’ verry guid”. The poor woman didn’t know what had hit her. “Au contraire, it’s brilliant”, I remonstrated swiftly and sternly; “it’s a fantastic revival, probably better than the original. The main problem is the Palladium is such a huge theatre, and there’s not a lot of money out there at the moment. It’s just another sign of the times, Miss Jones.” I’m not sure she got my Blood Brothers reference.

Simon Hardwick So when Bad Wolf and I emerged into the stalls on Wednesday afternoon I was half-expecting the place to be empty. Not a bit of it. The centre stalls block appeared to be fully booked, the side stalls were reasonably full and from what I could see the Royal Circle was packed too. Being a midweek matinee, Pensioner Power was out in force; and, without for a moment suggesting any blanket attributes to a sector of the community, there was an awful lot of sweet paper rustling and low-level chit-chat throughout the afternoon. How fondly I recall the happy days of the mid-70s when well-to-do elderly ladies came to the Drury Lane to see that “nice” musical A Chorus Line, and spent the evening tutting with disgust at mentions of tits, ass, gonorrhoea, “I’d be hard” and “I looked like a f***ing nurse”. Today they seem to take that in their stride, if they can hear the words above the chewing clacking dentures.

Harry Francis Every performance of Chorus Line is different – cast members change emphases, cover performers do it slightly differently, audience reactions very enormously. When we saw it in June I was amazed that, at the moment when the lights dim at the end of the show, Zach having chosen his successful 8-strong chorus, there was no round of applause. Silence. Incredible! Never seen that before. Not so on Wednesday, when that moment (rightly) got a big round of applause – as it nearly always does. However, then, when the individual cast members come out and take their initial personal bow before going into the big “One” routine, the whole audience clapped along regularly to the rhythm of the tune, somewhat panto-esque, rather than just clapping each performer. I’ve never experienced that before either.

Daisy Maywood This audience also reacted well to the show’s “gasp” moments. The main one is during that final elimination scene when Diana gets called forward and then Zach says “I’m wrong, back in line”. That got a great gasp. But there was also a very appreciative gasp at the tumbling sequence in Adam Salter’s absolutely spot-on performance of “I Can Do That”; and also during that wonderful glitzy performance of “One” just before the final chorus – that really high visual impact moment when the lights strengthen and line is in full view at the back of the stage – it was just superb.

Gary WatsonIt’s always so satisfying to see my favourite show in such capable and responsible hands. I have now seen many of the performers play their roles for a third time and they are so comfortable in those characters’ skins. I’ve already mentioned Adam Salter’s Mike, a really engaging performance of a character who is only lightly fleshed out in the text, but who, despite having the most self-confident dance routine has this surprising underlying anxiety (“I’d like to tell you to start at the end”). Ed Currie’s Bobby is now about as good as it gets, revealing the character’s quirkiness and complete shamelessness. When he’s talking about the kid whom he spray-painted and had to be taken to hospital, you got an increased insight into the weirdness of what he did by some subtle hand gestures – I’m guessing it wasn’t just the soles of his feet that were involved. And hat’s off to him for playing the role in that jumper on one of the hottest days of the year. Bobby really is quite a weirdo in many ways, and I think he might terrify you in real life, but Mr Currie gives the character so much warmth that it’s a delight to witness.

Michael Steedon When Bad Wolf and I were talking about the show beforehand, we both agreed that “Sing” is probably our least favourite number, because of its potential to irritate; just slightly. But it occurred to me whilst watching it, that it must be extraordinarily demanding for its performers. You need the verbal dexterity of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song, coupled with immaculate comedy timing and, from Kristine, the ability to sing credibly off-key. Frances Dee plays Kristine with superb control and it’s wonderful to watch. We don’t know much about Kristine and Al apart from the littleJon Tsouras secrets they reveal during “Hello Twelve…” Al’s enigmatic “Dad would take Mum to Roseland, she’d come home with her shoes in her hand” is one of the most evocative lines in the show and you never really quite know what to make of it. Simon Hardwick gives the character real substance by superbly contrasting the more private and thoughtful aspects of Al with his macho Bronx façade – great stuff.

Katy Hards Harry Francis is still marvellous as the young Mark, trying so hard to make a good impression, the perfect blend of exuberance and embarrassment; and I still can’t get over what a great dancer he is. Even Bad Wolf spoke highly of his skills. Daisy Maywood is now a real revelation as Bebe. She performed At The Ballet with more emotion in that role than I have ever seen. It was such a thoughtful and reflective account of Bebe’s relationship with her mother – I got a sense that this Bebe was really wounded by her family life and that the scars haven’t healed yet. And I’m still loving Gary Watson’s Don recollecting his youthful experience with Lola Latores – when she drives up in her big pink Cadillac convertible and smiles you just can’t help smiling along with him. Supersub Michael Steedon was playing Paul at this performance – we’d seen him on our previous visit and he really impressed me. This time he was a complete star. It’s such a skilful performance of Paul’s monologue; assertive, clear, brave, proud – but when he breaks down at the end, the contrast is so strong and moving that, again, I got the tears, dammit. And I was additionally moved by the little shriek of sudden pain that accompanied Paul’s fall – something that’s normally done silently – that made it all the more realistic.

Genevieve Nicole It was the first time I’d seen Jon Tsouras as Greg – he’s normally the boy with the headband who refuses to look up. Andy Rees, who normally plays Greg, is absolutely brilliant in the role; but Mr Tsouras puts a fascinatingly different slant on some of Greg’s material. His Greg is very honest, perhaps less of a show-off than others I have seen, and his account of feeling Sally Ketchum’s boobs was laugh-out-loud convincing. This is a very realistic, less bravado-fuelled, more insightful Greg and I really enjoyed his performance. This was also the first time I’ve seen Katy Hards as Diana. A demanding role, I particularly enjoyed her performance of Nothing, which was both funny and moving in all the right places. And, I’m not sure, but I think it was Genevieve Nicole who was playing Vicki, one of the characters to be eliminated early; her unruly dance steps were hilarious!

John PartridgeThe big guns are still going great as well – John Partridge’s Zach was having a slightly more belligerent day, he wasn’t going to let anyone get away with anything. It’s down step, pivot step, not pivot step, pivot step for chrissake! He plays the role with so much conviction and attack, that even just hearing his voice from the back of the auditorium it’s one of the best acting performances you’ll ever be lucky enough to experience. He can invest the word “relax” with unnerving overtones – it could almost be the last words you hear before the Sinister Doctor Zach administers your fatal drug overdose. His sparring with Scarlett Strallen’s Cassie was on absolutely top form, and of course he completely shines in the finale. Miss Strallen was mesmerising in The Music and The Mirror, as usual, and I love the way she copes with Zach and their past relationship; the agony of the memory chokes her voice up and her pain is palpable.

Scarlett StrallenHonestly, what’s not to love? As Harold Hobson said in the Sunday Times in 1975, it’s a rare, devastating, joyous, astonishing stunner and I can’t see any reason to change that opinion. Funny, sad and human to its core and I’m honoured to have seen it again. You’ve got until 31st August to see it too.

Review – A Chorus Line – revisited – London Palladium, 2nd June 2013

A Chorus LineA few months ago – on 23rd February to be precise – Mrs Chrisparkle and I went to see A Chorus Line at the Palladium. It was the first non-preview Saturday night. I loved it, as I knew I would, having loved it ever since as a slightly insecure 16 year old I sat, by myself, in Row C of the stalls at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and became instantly captivated by this life-enhancing show that taught me so much about, well, everything really. £5.50 that ticket cost me; I must have saved up for weeks. One of the best investments I ever made.

Victoria Hamilton-BarrittAs I mentioned in my previous blog, I’ve kept the faith with this show basically all my life, seeing it not only in London, but also in Oxford, Sheffield and on Broadway. February’s trip was my 12th time of seeing it – and Mrs C’s 4th, bless her. She loves the show too – maybe not quite as fanatically as me. I guess we all have our own definition of “what I did for love”. Thanks to the kindness of a Third Party whom I shall not name – but if you’re reading this, thanks so much! – on Saturday we returned to see it again.

John PartridgeI’ve always been a “front stalls” man; that’s my default setting. But for this 13th viewing of A Chorus Line, we sat in the dress circle, and I’ve never seen the show from this angle before. It’s very impressive! It goes without saying that from the dress circle (Row B) you get a fantastic view of the entire stage. Even though you’re further back and you can’t see the sweat and the spit, there are other aspects of onstage activity that become more apparent. Specific elements of the dance; for example, Diana’s thumping tap moves, in an attempt to make some kind of noise with her sneakers, came across as really funny; and you could see that the accidental twist that results in an injury to one of the dancers was executed absolutely perfectly. The view also brought out the anxiety and buzz of the dancers mingling stage right, whilst they’re waiting for Larry to call them on to dance, or for Zach to choose them for his final seventeen. Absolute big up at this point to Georgie Ashford for a fabulous performance as Trisha during that first number. The resigned crestfallen looks from the dancers not chosen, somehow clearer from above, was something I had never really appreciated before.

Scarlett StrallenIf anything, the show is even better than three months ago. Everything flows so naturally and seamlessly. The voices are perfect, the dance moves stupendous. I’ve always loved Michael Bennett’s original choreography, it’s so eloquent yet subtle in comparison with Bob Fosse’s brash showmanship that most other people seemed to prefer at the time. Despite the fact that, as Cassie says, “they’re all special”, some roles are still seen as “starrier” than others and they’re all still sublimely performed. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt especially now really excels herself as Diana. She has taken the song “Nothing” and totally made it her own. With some quirky vocal expression and changes of pace she tells the story of that stupid course and the dreadful Mr Karp with such passion that we can see how that experience has strengthened Diana and shaped the way she copes with life’s problems today. Her “What I Did For Love” still hits home with its plaintive honesty and the whole cast’s backing singing is just superb – major goosebump time.

Leigh ZimmermannJohn Partridge continues to invest Zach with a humanity I’ve not seen in previous actors’ interpretations. His questioning technique of the dancers is rarely straightforward – at times he’s sly, provocative, humorous, compassionate, irate; and his questions in turn seem to elicit a more emotional response from the auditionee. His stage presence is just astounding, and he’s still loving that big number at the end. When Larry asks Sheila for her “I love to dance smile”, it’s Mr Partridge to whom they should look for inspiration.

Gary WatsonAs Cassie, I loved Scarlett Strallen’s heightened emotions when she and Zach are raking over the old coals of their former relationship; I’ve never heard a Cassie quite so outraged by Zach’s pig-headed selfishness. She’s got to keep on the right side of him because she wants the job, but there are some things she’s just not going to let him get away with! The two actors work together incredibly well in those scenes. And Leigh Zimmermann’s Sheila is still a brilliant portrayal of the slightly temperamental, definitely cynical, at heart vulnerable, brassy lady who knows there aren’t many years left that she can continue to be a chorus cutie. Her last look to Zach still speaks volumes.

Ed CurrieThe whole cast are superb, but I wanted to mention a few others that I didn’t talk about last time. There’s a terrifically solid and honest performance by Gary Watson as Don, who really brings his experience with Lola Latores and her twin forty-fours to life; it’s fun to imagine the two of them zooming off into the sunset in her pink Cadillac. I also loved the way he reacted to the final casting decision – absolutely right for that character. Ed Currie seems to have now really got to the heart of Bobby, “real weird” in that nerdy jumper, outrageously sending up the wackier aspects of his character but in an absolutely credible way. Frances Dee is a wonderfully out of tune Kristine, no pantomime character this but a real person who genuinely gets uptight through nerves; and Alastair Postlethwaite, who we thought would be destined for great things after seeing him in So You Think You Can Dance, is giving Larry a real character dimension; not just the assistant but someone who has to have a proper working relationship with Zach and with whom you sense he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye. Andy Rees is still a hugely entertaining Greg, and Harry Francis’ Mark – the character I always identified with when I was young – is a brilliant combination of youthful exuberance and awkward embarrassment. His dance skill is astonishing; you sense he could dance rings round the others given half a chance.

Andy ReesIn the performance we saw, the role of Paul, in many ways the most sympathetic and moving role in the show, was played by Michael Steedon. Paul has a stunningly written monologue to perform, and every Paul plays it slightly differently, obviously drawing on the actor’s own insights and experience. Mr Steedon is absolutely one of the best. Beautifully paced, sincere; I know that speech like the back of my hand and still it brought tears to my eyes.

Harry FrancisA funny thing happened halfway through the show – everything stopped! Judy had just confessed to kissing other girls as a rehearsal for when she wanted to start kissing guys when all the lights went out. Everything went silent; a little torch appeared at the sides of the stage and you heard the shuffle off of retreating dancers. Then, in a tone of immaculate calm, a disembodied voice announced that due to a technical issue they’d had to suspend the show and would get it going again as soon as possible. Well it’s not often that a number literally stops the show! I felt the lighting had gone awry in the “Mother” sequence beforehand; I don’t know if that was the cause. Anyway, for the first time, A Chorus Line actually had an interval! It was about ten minutes before they resumed the show, picking up precisely from where they had left off; and huge admiration to Andy Rees for getting straight back in with Greg’s “Hard” routine without a flicker of anything being wrong. That must have been quite nerve-racking.

Have to go back again soonOne other observation about this production of A Chorus Line is that I really like the fact that we now get an additional curtain call at the end. It was always a source of frustration to the teenage me that the last we saw of the performers was when the lights faded on the high kicks at the end of “One” – you never really felt you were given the opportunity fully to express your appreciation. Apart from the very last night in 1979, that is, when the lights went back up at the end of the show to reveal a stage and auditorium full of weeping cast and aficionados. Now, once the lights have faded, the dancers remain on stage one more time for a proper curtain call. Result: satisfaction all round.

Going back to see it again has satisfied me that the cast are still looking after the show wonderfully well – it’s all in very safe hands. Trouble is, now I’m going to have to go yet again. I knew I’d have to!

Review – A Chorus Line, London Palladium, 23rd February 2013

A Chorus Line 2013Probably not so much of a review, more a reverie…anyone who knows me well – especially if you’ve known me for many years – will know that A Chorus Line is my favourite show of all time. I first saw it featuring the Toronto cast when I was 16 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 29th December 1976 (matinee – yes I am that anal) and before I had reached 17 the following April I had seen it twice more. By the time the run closed I had seen it 8 times, including the last night. I remember spectacular, moving performances from the British cast – including Diane Langton, Michael Staniforth, Petra Siniawski, Geraldine Gardner, Stephen Tate, and many others. Alas some of them are no longer with us. Then Mrs Chrisparkle and I took the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle to see a touring production in Oxford in 1987 (Cassie played by Caroline O’Connor, Maggie was a 19-year-old Ruthie Henshall); there was a production about ten years ago (if not more) at the Sheffield Crucible; and then Mrs C and I saw it in New York in 2008 during a week’s holiday. And now, it has come back to London, and the prospect of seeing it again made me bristle with excitement.

A Chorus Line 1976You know the basic story of this show, don’t you? It’s an audition for eight places in the chorus to back the star in some unnamed Broadway musical. Zach the director has the unenviable task of whittling down the 24 or so wannabes to a shortlist of 17, then the final eight. Their personalities are dissected; their dance abilities scrutinised; their attitudes tested. At first, you join in with the selection process, and pick who you would like to get through. But at some point, your admiration for them all means you cannot choose between them, and you just will them all to succeed. My attitude to this show has never changed, all through the decades. It takes young, ambitious and talented dancers who otherwise never get to shine on stage, and brings them into the full gaze of “the line”, thereby giving them a character voice they don’t normally get and exposing the fragility of their lives and careers. It’s full of respect and understanding, and it taught the young me an awful lot about life and people. It’s also very funny, very sad and has the most wonderful expressive choreography by the late Michael Bennett. The songs are showstoppers. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be everyone’s favourite show.

Toronto Cast 1976So you can understand that I have some difficulty trying to observe this show and describe it reasonably impartially! What I am genuinely delighted is that it remains more or less precisely the same as it was nearly forty years ago, and that it can still pack out the Palladium and get a standing ovation. Mind you, I’m sure that the audience – first Saturday evening after press night – was full of fans from the old days. As far as I could tell, the choreography and costumes were unchanged, the set (which is just a few mirrors and a sparkly backdrop at the end) is the same, the songs are the same, and there are just a few minor changes to the text.

London Cast 1977Those changes are very interesting in themselves. When Judy (a delightfully dotty and heart-warming performance by Lucy Jane Adcock) first introduces herself, she says her name is Judy Turner, but “my real name is Tina Turner!” Cue a “ta-da!” pose and affectionate laughter. This has been modernised from the 1970s’ “my real name is Lana Turner!” Same “ta-da!” pose. I’m not entirely sure why. Sure, today I don’t suppose many theatregoers will be overly moved by likening someone to a film actress who died aged 74 in 1995. However, the show is full of other references to stars of yesteryear – Troy Donohue (died 2001), Steve McQueen (died 1980), George Hamilton (still alive at 73), Robert Goulet (died 2007), Maria Tallchief (still alive at 88). I’m not sure why poor Lana Turner has been kicked into touch whilst the others are still part of the show.

UK Touring Cast 1987Another text change shows a significant movement in what’s considered humorous material. In the sequence “And….”, Val originally sang, “Orphan at 3, Orphan at 3, Mother and Dad both gone, Raised by a sweet ex-con, Tied up and raped at 7, Seriously, Seriously, Nothing too obscene, I’d better keep it clean”. In this production, the “tied up and raped at 7” line had been replaced by something much more anodyne (I’m afraid I can’t remember the replacement line) but which didn’t really make sense when she went on to say “nothing too obscene” – as the replacement line hadn’t been obscene at all. I guess the powers that be just think that kind of reference is no longer appropriate in the 21st century.

Lucy Jane AdcockThe other change – which kind of makes sense – is that the dancers no longer give the year in which they were born in their introduction. In the first production, they were all born in the early 1950s. That would sound odd to today’s audience, even though the setting makes it clear that we are in 1975. In the Oxford production, if I remember rightly, they brought forward the years by about ten so that it still sounded believable. I think in the Sheffield production they went back to the 1950s birth dates – and at the Palladium, they just say I was born April 13th (or whatever) and I’m 25 (or whatever). The trouble with that is that Zach doesn’t really want to know the birth date – after all, he’s not going to buy them a birthday card or check their horoscope – he just wants to know their age. So the birth date part of this sequence, rather like committing suicide in Buffalo, is redundant.

John Partridge Apart from that, it very much is the original article. I’m sure back in the old days it used to run for just over 2 hours 10 minutes, but they seem to have shaved five minutes off it now. Maybe they’re dancing a little faster! There’s still no interval – something that Mrs C reminds me I am normally very critical of in other shows – but for me it is completely appropriate that it runs straight through without stopping, as any break would arrest the momentum of the show. Anyway I think it was ground-breaking at the time to have no interval. Any production team nowadays, who simply want to wrap up and go home early, go for the “no-interval” option.

Scarlett Strallen It’s a great cast of superb dancers and actors – I understand they all had to attend “boot camp” held by Baayork Lee (the original Connie) to get into shape before rehearsals started, and it shows. One of the great things about A Chorus Line is that it is “the ensemble show par excellence”. Misleadingly the producers revealed early on who would be performing the “star roles” of Zach, Cassie, Sheila and Diana, which somewhat misses the point of the show itself – as Cassie herself says “we’re all special. He’s special – she’s special. And Sheila, and Richie and Connie. They’re all special.” However, let’s take those star roles first.

Leigh ZimmermannJohn Partridge is Zach the director. Of all the Zachs I’ve seen, he feels far and away the most closely associated with the rest of the dancers. Sometimes Zach can be aloof to the point of hostility, but this Zach works with the dancers’ responses with the greatest sense of understanding and appreciation that I can remember – and it really benefits as a result. Zach’s still a rather scary powerhouse of directorial pizzazz; you wouldn’t choose to waste his time. But I found his reading of the role really credible. It’s full of energy and authority; and when he joins the rest of the cast for the One Singular Sensation closing number, you have never seen a performer look so happy to be out there on stage. Some friends also went to see the same performance – they booked separately and so we didn’t sit together – and they were seated alongside Mr Partridge at the back of the theatre, as his voice booms mystically from the dark. Apparently he genuinely checks all the characters against their resumés as the show progresses. Who knew?

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt Scarlett Strallen is Cassie – and first of all I must say that she performs The Music and The Mirror with extraordinary artistry and movement; I really loved it. She can pop the hip for me anytime. Her painful recollections of a career that never took off are movingly relived, and the “dirty linen” sequence when she and Zach pick over the remains of their previous relationship has tangible bitterness and disappointment. Again, another superb performance.

Vicki Lee TaylorSheila is played by Leigh Zimmermann, whom we last saw many years ago in Susan Stroman’s Contact. Perfect casting for the seen-it-all, done-it-all, world-weary but still with a mischievous sparkle, Sheila. When she opens up her heart in At The Ballet you feel like it’s a genuine insight into the parts of her character she wants kept locked up. And her last distant look at Zach, at the end of the show, says everything about ambition, bravery, distress and sadness. Really beautifully done.

Adam SalterVictoria Hamilton-Barritt is Diana, and something of a revelation, as I’ve not seen her before and she’s really terrific! She put her heart and soul into “Nothing” (Mrs C’s favourite number in the show) and she made it a real victory song. Endearing, quirky; and when she is called back in line at the end after Zach makes a mistake, everyone gasps. Of course, it falls to Diana to sing “What I Did For Love”, which is NOT about Zach and Cassie’s relationship as Richard Attenborough’s travesty of a film would have you believe, but is the simple answer to “what do you do when you can no longer dance”. She sings it beautifully – and the searing chorus that builds up around her is just magical. A brilliant performance.

Andy ReesBut the whole cast turn in wonderful performances. For example, I loved Vicki Lee Taylor’s Maggie – a voice of crystal clarity, and who invests Maggie’s role in At The Ballet with such empathy and understanding – outstandingly good. Adam Salter’s Mike is called on to do the acrobatic “I Can Do That” early on, and it’s a wonderfully funny and credible performance. You really do believe he didn’t like his mates calling him Twinkletoes. Andy Rees plays Greg with terrific comic timing – it’s a gift of a role, of course, but all the stuff about being (if I may be so direct, gentle reader) “hard” on the bus was really superbly done. I very much liked Harry Francis as Mark. That was the role I always associated myself with, when I were a lad. He brought all the necessary youth and embarrassing earnestness in his wish to do Harry Francisreally well in his first major job. He’s also an amazing dancer. There’s a sequence in “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen…” where he leads an arrow-shaped phalanx of dancers darting left and right across the stage, in true show-off Michael Bennett style, and he does it brilliantly. And James T Lane’s Richie is a little powerhouse of energy and humour, and his (again turn away if you’re likely to be offended) “Shit Richie” chorus was fantastic. I could be here all day talking about every member of the cast – and frankly they would all deserve it.

James T LaneSo I am thrilled to see A Chorus Line back on the London stage after 34 years, and in a production that is a credit to that amazing original creative team, nearly all of whom have shuffled off to that great audition in the sky. I can’t recommend it strongly enough, and I’m sure that won’t be the last time I go to see it!

PS On the way out of the theatre, there was a cameraman and a sound boom man who said they were making a documentary for NBC about the late Marvin Hamlisch. Basically, they were asking for people to sing a snatch of a Hamlisch song for their programme. So guess who got to do a bit of their “Dance Ten Looks Three” routine? I might be on the telly!