Watching the one big audition process that is A Chorus Line take shape on the deep, empty apron stage of the Sheffield Crucible is like being, if not the director Zach himself, then at least his choreography assistant. We, the audience, are immediately drawn into this Broadway try-out, from the moment the 23-strong company bursts on to the space, all flying arms and flailing legs, in the breathlessly eager chorus "I Hope I Get It".
At the end of this opening sequence, when the 17 chosen finalists line up with their 10x8 mugshots hiding their faces, you already want all of them to make the final cut. By the time they have unmasked themselves in snapshots from their often-poignant life stories, revealed their vulnerability and shared their secrets, you feel Zach faces an impossible task. As one character puts it: "They're all special."
Nikolai Foster's production for the Crucible is pretty special, too, in its cinematic staging concept, helped enormously by Tim Mitchell's highly effective lighting - conjuring up filmic close-ups, dissolves and montages - and superb choreography by Karen Bruce. And, of course, essential in creating both a set and a rehearsal atmosphere, the mirrors underscore the whole show, most tellingly in "The Music and the Mirror". Here, Cassie (expertly played by Josefina Gabrielle) simply shows her love of dancing, no matter the personal consequences, the pain of recalling the romantic relationship she once had with the complex, ambitious Zach.
Each member of the cast brings out more of his or her character's personality in numbers such as "I Can Do That" (David Sellings as Mike, recalling his first steps); "At the Ballet", in which Sheila, Bebe and Maggie recount their lucky escape into dance; "Sing!" (which the bubbly Rachael Wooding, as Kristine, most definitely and comically cannot); and "Dance: 10; Looks: Three", in which Val (Rebekah Gibbs) struts her stuff wonderfully, as the song goes, all "tits and bum". "Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love" stands out as one of the most telling company numbers of this production, perhaps because we can all empathise with memories of tricky early teens.
Out of such a strong ensemble, it is as difficult to pick winners as it is for Zach to select his line-up of just eight dancers, but Michael Jibson brings a threatening intensity to his portrayal of Bobby, Nikki Belsher as Sheila makes the most of Neil Simon's cracking one-liners, Sebastien Torkia turns in a witty characterisation as Greg, and Daniel Crossley is touching as the fragile Paul. Jason Durr, prowling stealthily like a lion or hiding himself away in the audience as an eerie voice issuing directorial instructions, makes a strong impression as the driven Zach, not devoid of emotion; just adept at not acknowledging it.
Those who expect the glitter and glitz of showbiz will not be disappointed. After the waiting and the watching, the finale brings the dancers into one grand line-up, uniform in gold spangly costumes, gold confetti dropping like stardust as they high-kick their way through "One". I defy anyone to remain a couch potato after seeing this Chorus Line - the music, the dance, the sheer energy of the show are dangerously infectious and a great tribute to the genius of the show's Broadway creator, Michael Bennett.
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