Curve Leicester have been known for their high quality productions over the years. Their track record speaks for itself, but last year many more people outside of the area became aware of their talent for greatness as they innovatively reacted to the ever-changing guidelines by streaming the shows they had planned from an empty theatre. Last Christmas we were treated to what was quite possibly the greatest stream of all with their production of Sunset Boulevard. While we're not out of the woods just yet, this Christmas they have been able to stage a show to a packed audience as usual - the show in question this year is the classic A Chorus Line.
Since its debut in 1975, A Chorus Line was once dubbed the anti-musical for how unique it was - no big stage set, no elaborate costumes (until the final number), one lengthy act and with an ensemble cast, it surpassed expectations by becoming the longest running show in Broadway history until 1997 when it was beaten by a show that would go on to be ruined by James Corden (That doesn't narrow it down, I know). It's original West End run was also a success with both productions bagging a number of Tony and Olivier awards. Revived sporadically over the years, it is now back again as a brand new production.
When the curtain opens, you are greeted by the sight of a vast yet sparse space. There are no bells and whistles here, just a recreation of a cold and soulless rehearsal space. Thankfully, the space is filled by a large cast who command every inch they are given. The predominantly large cast are initially reduced to a main ensemble of 17 performers along with Adam Cooper who commands the cast as Zach. There's not much of a plot - instead the show is based around Zach asking the performers to reveal things about themselves to help them stand out and make the cut. Based on accounts from real Broadway dancers, it takes a while to get to know such a large cast but they all provide glimpses but the slow build eventually pays off.
Each cast member takes their turn to step forward and talk about what shaped their desire to be a dancer. The cast are all flawless but some of the standouts include Ainsley Hall Ricketts who delivers a powerful and emotional monologue as Paul San Marco, Emily Barnett-Salter who is delightfully sassy as Sheila Bryant Jamie O'Leary making his professional debut as Mark Anthony and using it to deliver an endearing yet hilarious story, Lizzy-Rose Esin-Kelly as Diana and Redmand Rance who gets the first solo turn in 'I Can Do That' as Mike Costa.
Carly Mercedes Dyer plays the role of Cassie - a former lead performer and former love interest of Zach who is auditioning for a place in the chorus - a role where she is categorically told to fall in line and not pull focus. It's a case of life imitating art for Carly who has just finished a scene-stealing turn in Anything Goes (If she doesn't get nominated for an Olivier, I'll riot). While Cassie is slightly more weighted than the other roles, she is still ultimately an ensemble member and does the impossible by blending in while it is the turn of her fellow performers. When the spotlight falls on her, she well and truly owns it, dominating the moment and ultimately the evening with her incredible vocals and flawless dancing for her big solo number - the iconic 'The Music and the Mirror'. Carly is a star in every sense of the word and this is yet another incredible performance to add to her already impressive resume.
The music in the show remains some of Broadways best. Apart from the ones already mentioned, A Chorus Line features the gorgeous 'What I Did For Love', the anthemic 'I Hope I Get It' and the iconic 'One' which provides a glorious finale. Joshua Lay and Katie Lee provided a highlight with the rousing duet 'Sing', Chloe Saunders excels with a brilliant 'Dance: Ten; Looks: Three' while Beth Hinton-Lever, Emily Barnett-Salter and Charlotte Scott delivered a standout performance with the stunning 'At The Ballet'.
For a show about dancers, you would expect precision and perfection when it comes to the choreography. Ellen Kane more than rises to the occasion, ensuring every step on that stage is as awe-inspiring as it ought to be. The action switches from group numbers to more intimate personal solo numbers. Two very different extremes but both executed flawlessly.
A Chorus Line might be nearly 50 years old but it feels more relevant than ever, especially a sequence where the auditionees discuss Broadway dying, shows closing and what they'll do when it all ends. This feels especially poignant given how many actors found themselves out of work during the pandemic. Thankfully, there was no updated reference to them retraining in cyber.
The staging may be simple and sparse but that's not to say it's boring. Directed by Nikolai Foster, there is not a dull moment in the show, even in the shows slower moments. The lighting, designed by Howard Hudson, is one of the best elements in this production, impressing with its versatility throughout. That is until the showstopping final number when it becomes the star of the show through incredible tricks, making it the best lighting I have seen on a theatre stage bar none.
A Chorus Line is essentially a love letter to musical theatre. It comes at a time when that is needed more than ever before. As we return to the theatres after too long of a gap, we no longer take it for granted. This phenomenal production reminds us what great theatre can achieve and how important it truly is. It may only be playing in Leicester for a limited season, but when a show is as good as this, we can only hope it gets a call back for the future - possibly for a West End run? Ultimately, this production doesn't put a foot wrong and really is a singular sensation.
A Chorus Line plays at the Curve in Leicester until December 31st. Tickets from curveonline.co.uk/