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Review: A Chorus Line at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta (on Darug land)

Review by Jerome Studdy

If you have ever tried to sing and dance at the same time, you will know it’s no easy feat.

Now try singing and dancing at the same time, for an entire musical, and not just dancing, but intense, high energy dancing with complicated turns, leaps, floor work, add some acrobatics, back tucks, aerials, walkovers, now do it in chorus heels, with a mic pack on, under lights, in front of an audience, remembering your lines, your accent, keeping in character, hoping your lashes haven’t come off or that you don’t drop your hat, not to mention what you’re actually singing all the while is some of the most coveted and deceptively fiendish music in Broadway history.

And now, do all of that in the wake of a global pandemic, where a number of your cast are recovering their stamina after the virus, and you’ve had to adjust casting and blocking and covers or understudies.

To do all of that, and still make it to stage with nothing short of a dynamite production is beyond herculean, yet here stand the cast and crew of Darlinghurst Theatre Company, having done that and more.

Whilst I’m aware that it seems self-indulgent to open a review with such lengthy oration, it felt fitting within the world of A Chorus Line to truly pay homage to the sheer work that goes into a production: the small feats, the unnoticed odysseys, every little thing that a cast and crew do to create a shimmering piece of art. So before unpacking the show any further, a sincere and insurmountable amount of thanks must be given to all involved in this show for continuing to give us beautiful things to watch, stories to enjoy, emotions to share, and songs to carry through our uncertain days.

Casting A Chorus Line is not an easy task. You require triple threats that are not only brilliant in their singing, dancing, and acting, but as an ensemble they must have excellent synergy with a shimmering passion that solidifies the onstage world. Pleasingly, Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s cast fit the bill. Dance 10, Looks 10. Each cast member performed with incredible dedication to their craft. Viewing the show is the only way to truly appreciate these immense performers. The vocal prowess of Ross Chisari (Al) and Mariah Gonzalez (Diana) must be acknowledged, as too the character work from Nadia Coote (Sheila) and Angelina Thomson (Judy).

Of course, it would be completely remiss not to acknowledge Angelique Cassimatis as Cassie. Such a star vehicle of a role is intimidating in such a way that it can leave an audience nervous for the pending performance. Not only is the audience immediately comfortable in the reliability and beauty of Cassimatis’ singing voice, but she also commands her performance of “The Music and the Mirror” with such palpable passion, precision, and bravado that for the first time in a dance solo, I (along with a number of other audience members) was moved to tears. Congratulations.

Direction and choreography from Amy Campbell are also an exercise in brilliant theatre. Campbell knows where to create space for a performance to be brilliant in its own right. The choreography was wonderfully styled, dynamic, and captivating. At times however, it did become a little cluttered and acted to impede the performance of the cast, but these moments were few and far between.

The work of the musical team was precise and powerful, with phenomenal talent in the pit, and the results of an apparently masterful rehearsal process on display. Wardrobe was eclectic yet harmonious and visually delightful. Lighting was diverse and impressive, and set design was clean, elegant, and evocative.

Unfortunately, one of the faults with the show is the tech, in particular the audio tech. Occasional lighting cues were bungled, but mic cues were often late, and the balance was at times inexcusable. Dance breaks might be one of the trickiest things to balance audio for. Audiences can quickly become uncomfortable when the music level in a dance break is too low, their attention being caught by the sound of shoes scuffing onstage or cast members catching breath. Understandably, mixing a show like A Chorus Line where soloist lines are often singular pop outs from a larger chorus is difficult, but so often these soloists were lost, and at times, the entire cast were lost in the mix. The finale piece was nearly void of vocals entirely. Some tightening of these elements will solidify this as one of the best performances in Sydney this year.

One seemingly minor detail that I would like to draw attention to is the cast covering of Larry. Molly Bugeja, credited as Vicki, has stepped into the role of Larry in a post-COVID cast shuffle, with the decision from the team to use they/them pronouns for the character. A very simple and genuine decision that shows DTC’s commitment to representation in their shows.

Once again, Darlinghurst Theatre Company have demonstrated their immense capacity to create authentic and moving theatre, swimming in passion and heart. In a modern landscape of shows that are often produced only to turn a profit, it is heartening to see these artists as the forerunners of the industry. If you have not purchased tickets, you had best step up to the line.

Image Credit: Robert Catto


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