OK, I know what you’re thinking. (And what my editor is thinking.) Has he gone stark-raving? Reviewing musicals, off, off, off-Broadway. In ‘the shire’. In my defence, your honour, I’m ever-keen to establish my contention that talent lurks in strange and unpredictable places, and there are fewer places stranger, at least by reputation, than the bloc that is the southern suburbs of greater Sydney. And I tender exhibit A, a very recent production of Avenue Q, by Rockdale Musical Society (which has been ’round since Adam was a tiny tot). On reviewing the original cast via You Tube, I reckon the RMS cast was, by far, the finer: singing as good; acting and puppeteering much better. I kid you not.
And so it is with this in mind that I submit my review of A Chorus Line, as performed by the neighbouring Miranda Musical Society. Of course, it’s reasonable to make the argument that, given an adequate cast, this musical is so good it will carry itself. That said, here is a more than adequate cast. One can barely imagine, even given a wealth of talent, the difficulties of recruiting a bunch of young people who can sing, dance and act. Triple threats are hard to come by professionally, let alone in the amateur realm. Yet director Gavin Leahy has, pretty clearly, done his best, which has proven to be, on the whole, good enough and, here and there, sensationally good.
Local identity Greg Jones musically directs a fine band, playing a very tricky score. There were one or two pitch issues with the brass section, but any other flaws, if present, weren’t evident to my ear.
I had more trouble with Simone Salle’s choreography which looked, by turns, disjointed, clumsy, unnecessarily complex and difficult and unsuited to some dancers (not least Erin Bruce, as Cassie, who struggled with her solo, which is taxing enough). It also tended to lapse into cliches, or was that homage? When the ensemble was on stage together, while I wouldn’t have them looking like synchronised swimmers, they looked a little too messy and haphazard. It was, for mine, unaesthetic and not especially expressive of what was taking place, narratively. Up tempo sequences seemed to be designed to thrill, but fell short by looking too try-hard.Less would’ve proved more.
Loud and Clear’s sound design satisfied the former criterion, but not the latter. Costumery, too, seemed to have been designed without the specific actors in mind: it worked in some cases and looked a little odd in others. Colin Peet’s lighting was relative, effective and tight. I’m not sure who designed the set, but it sufficed well in conjuring the mood of a large rehearsal space.
Leahy has the temerity to cast himself as the director, Zach. He looked and sounded every inch the part, even if his anxiety was a little too unrelenting. Erin Bruce made the most of her big moment, in act two, with The Music and the Mirror. (Her character, Cassie, has a history with the obsessively-driven Zach, who can’t stand to see her, a promising soloist, trying out for the chorus line.)
Roslyn Howell is luminous as Sheila, the brassy, slightly older chorus girl or, as she insists, woman. She has a commanding presence and voice (she once toured with Boy George on a French tour, among other career highlights), can dance and is adept at characterisation. Yes, she, for one, lives amply up to the proverbial triple-threat label and could easily find a prominent place on any professional stage. Richard Adams is charismatic and compelling as Mike, with dynamic dance and acting skills, but a way to go on the singing side. Mind you, trying to sing while executing the steps required of him was no mean ask.
Jonathan Walsh proves himself a gifted all-rounder as Bobby, the out-and-proud Jewish misfit, surmounting and coming to terms with his past, while making the most of every opportunity and living in and for the moment.
Nicole Butler, Sarah Furnari, Ellen Bryant and Kira Nelson, as Bebe, Maggie, Kristine and Connie, show themselves to be solid performers across the required skillset, too. All present convincing characters, in a highly commendable all-singing, all-dancing, very musical way. I’d be happy to see them in any music theatre production, anytime. Michael Astill looked just a fraction out of his element as Bronx-born-and-bred Al and, while his voice is strong and attractive, like his sleeveless, checked shirt, it didn’t seem to quite fit.
Tim Watson gave a memorable, heartrending performance as the troubled, traumatised Paul. My crystal-ball tells me he has a big, bright future as an actor. And he has a lovely singing voice, to boot. Emma Paull’s vocals may have faltered early on, and her lower register needs work, but once she hits the high notes, she really sings. It was an inspired decision to allow her to apply her own style and interpretation to What I Did For Love, which worked all the better for it than any attempt at emulation likely would’ve. The girl can really dance, too.
Nicholas Robson was also more than competent, as Don. Likewise, Temujin Tera, as Mark. Cassanne Ayre shone as Judy. Tim Wotherspoon’s high-camp Greg was well-executed; Sean Perez put every ounce into Ritchie but proved, if anything, a little strident; Jessica Rooney isn’t much of a singer, but has the other goods in heapin’ helpings. Sam Larielle-Rogan arguably lacked a little intensity, as the assistant director, Larry. His presence ought to have been felt more. Helena Kyriacou, Tyler Hoggard and Ashleigh Colella were early casualties from the chorus line, as Tricia, Butch and Vicki, a case of life imitating art, and vice-versa.
As I mused to my partner on the way home, a good musical only needs one or two truly great songs. A Chorus Line has those and a whole lot more, not least profound insight and sympathy for the brutality of casting and the often tormenting, tormented life of the performing artist. If you’ve never seen it, you could do a whole lot worse than spend a couple of hours in Sydney’s deep south.
The details: A Chorus Line played the Sutherland Entertainment Centre from September 21-25.