Conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Originally co-choreographed by Bob Avian
Directed by Bob Avian
Venue: London Palladium
Date: Wednesday 21st August 2013
This isn’t my favourite musical, but Steve likes it a lot so I was happy to join him on a visit to the West End to catch this production. I’m still not smitten; I recognise the originality of the style and content, and the music is better than average with some good humour and several very moving scenes, but I found it hard to fully engage with most of the characters, especially when some of them had very little time in the spotlight. Steve enjoyed it more than I did, and as it was his choice I’ve put his rating on the experience; I would have gone for 7/10.
There were a number of understudies on stage this afternoon, and while I couldn’t spot any obvious problems, it can be harder for the understudies to bring the same depth to a role if they haven’t had much of a chance to perform it. Regardless, this was an enjoyable afternoon in the theatre, and although I looked at my watch more than usual, that was mainly because it ran for two hours without an interval even though the structure of the show suggested an obvious break point. The seats weren’t that comfy, but with a few wriggles towards the end I managed to make it.
The set was as simple as possible for a musical – just a bare stage with the option of mirrors or a black background for most of the show. The mirrors and black background were on rotating panels, along with a third option used towards the end, which was much more like the glamorous sets used in Broadway musicals. Another set of mirrors descended for Cassie’s dance, and the final number, with the whole cast in gold-coloured costumes, was full-on bling – they even had lights round the outside of the proscenium arch. There was little expense on view on the costume front as well – apart from the final number the cast wore their rehearsal clothes throughout.
The relationship between Zach and Cassie was OK, but seemed a bit repetitive – give her a job, for God’s sake, or we’ll never get home – and her long dance routine didn’t do a lot for me (I prefer tap). I was more impressed by Diana and Paul, one of the gay dancers who damaged his knee during the final elimination round. Diana was a very strong character, and her experience of being told she was no good and overcoming it was the most moving part of the show for me. The singing and dancing were all fine, though as usual I couldn’t make out all of the lyrics.
The strength of this musical lies not in the glitz and razzamatazz but the honesty of the various characters’ stories. They give us a glimpse into the demanding and demeaning world of musical auditions, as well as exposing the short-lived careers of most dancers. The difference between the stars and the chorus was also demonstrated when Cassie, a fallen star, was dancing with the rest of the group and had to rein in her performance to avoid standing out from the others. Despite the lack of a plot, the downbeat love story and plenty of sad moments, there was usually something interesting to watch, and the audience’s appreciation at the end was very well deserved.
© 2013 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me