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Review: A Chorus Line at Pioneer Theatre

By Abbie Gallagher

Blackout Theatre Company is almost unrecognisable these days. The quality of productions they put on since c. 2014 is borderline astonishing compared to their earlier years. Much of this is due to the young artists who turned the company around, including Angela Therese Hanna, the director and former company president, and former committee member Jordan Anderson who steals the show as flamboyant dancer Bobby. Angela Hanna has created a highly entertaining production that the company has every reason to be proud of.

It’s no small feat putting on one of the few musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Arguably the first piece of theatre to truly explore what artists go through, A Chorus Line is a modern classic set entirely during a single audition. 17 dancers are vying for a place in the chorus of Zac’s newest show, with only 8 positions available. However, this audition has a unique twist. Zac wants the auditionees to open up about their personal lives. What made them dance? What were their childhoods like? They’re more than just their resumes. And an even bigger twist, the stories told by the cast are all heavily based on real stories told by real actors trying to ‘make it’.

It’s amazing how well this show holds up after 40+ years. The themes of family dysfunction, difficult teachers, diversity, insecurity and body-shaming are universal and relatable to all, not just actors, and therein lies the beauty. A Chorus Line humanises performers. It breaks down the misconceptions including, but not limited to, that performers are ego-driven, cocky, attention seekers with no substance outside of their art. That the arts are some sort of glittery ideal where everything is perfect and therefore not worth pursuing as a career because it’s just ‘too hard’. The irony. Every single artist has heard this, and more, time and time again.

From the minute the actors arrive on stage while the audience is seated, their entrances, costumes and interactions give subtle hints about the characters, and if you watch, you’ll have a few laughs. As the show progresses and the dancers are cut, we see less of the mask all performers (heck, all humans in general!) wear, and more of the pain, struggle and small triumphs they carry with them.

Make no mistake, the real star of the show here is the choreography by Tamara Scamporlino (and assistant choreographer Brenna Smith who also plays Val). This is right up there with Fiddler On The Roof (WTC) and Tuck Everlasting (MUSE) as the best choreography I’ve come across in the independent theatre scene this year. It’s tight, creative and cleverly updated from the iconic original production, as well as implemented ingeniously in several flashback/memory sequences. I was glad to see the 6 ensemble members being utilised during these moments as opposed to being relegated to simply the opening and closing songs.

The cast shines onstage during the many dance numbers and this is bar none the strongest element at play here. Music Director James McLanders also deserves much credit for his beautiful work, and the excellent orchestra playing some often challenging music.

That’s not to say this production is entirely flawless, however. The direction and staging is strong, but some characterisation is a little on the shallow side (this may be intentional, as the facade performers often use in the audition room) which can take you slightly out of the world. Also, the cast are not the strongest singers. The ensemble and harmony work is fine, but the solo singing leaves a bit to be desired. It seemed many of the players are dancers first and some were struggling with the pitch and vocal range. Cathlyn-Rose McKellar is the exception in the key role of Diana. She has a very pleasant voice and was a welcome addition during her two solos Nothing and What I Did For Love.

As of the time of writing, Blackout Theatre Company has announced their 2020 roster as We Will Rock You, The Boy From Oz and a 20th anniversary gala. I urge you to check them out, because you’re guaranteed to leave the theatre feeling invigorated and with a big smile on your face, like everyone did when the curtains closed on Friday night.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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