David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Online
Towering lust, high tension and higher finance. Reader, I was glued to every minor vacillation in the vertiginous dramatic fortunes of the Oil Barons' Ball. Of course, you had to have been a Dallas aficionado to understand, but take my word for it, the ritual humilation of the appalling Cliff Barnes was an annual high-point in Eighties drama. Not to mention the door-slamming tantrums of his girlfriend Afton, a woman clearly out shopping when brain cells were allocated. The actress in question, one Audrey Landers, escaped the series to star in Richard Attenborough's daftest enterprise yet, the film of A Chorus Line.

Given her small-screen track record as a chanteuse wannabe, her rendition of the show's paean to plastic surgery "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three", aka "Tits and Ass", was surprisingly good, but the film itself was a ghastly exercise in missing the point.

A Chorus Line did not break every Broadway record with a 15-year run because of Marvin Hamlisch's score (fun, efficient but phoney); and the tart lyrics tip over into bogus sentiment, especially in the utterly meaningless eulogy "What I Did For Love". "Look my eyes are dry/ The gift was ours to borrow/ We did what we had to do..." What, pray tell, does that mean?

No, the reason for the show's longevity was the brilliance of its conception. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, one of the profession's greatest losses to Aids, it takes a breathtakingly simple conceit - 33 dancers auditioning for a show - and plays it to simply dazzling dramatic effect. Film techniques are irrelevant. You have to be there. Watching them, you feel part of the process and the tension mounts inexorably as we discover more about their lives and will them to succeed. This year sees the 21st anniversary of the Derby Playhouse and of the show's London production. The perfect excuse for a revival. Don't miss it.

'A Chorus Line' opens tonight, Derby Playhouse (01332 363275)

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