NB: I am also a stickler for citing sources so above image from Crickey Blog
I am always frustrated by the current crop of "theatre reviewers"; and whilst I love that the digital natives are ensuring that theatre lovers, and practitioners, have a digital archive to refer back to in years to come, I question how valid are reviews when the reviewers own credentials are not hyperlinked? ( Just out of curiousity of course... that should be easy Stage Whispers admins?)
This is my problem with the current 'review' of the Adelaide/Melbourne production of A Chorus Line, on the otherwise admirable, site Stage Whispers.
When I was a reviewer (and trained journalist) the first rule of thumb for 'light entertainment' reviewers was to not rely solely on the production company's marketing material and actual program notes. I would add to this "stop for Godsake using google as your primary research source"!
Too much of the current 'review' by Sara Bannister tells me more about Sara Bannister than the performance she saw.
Sure she can reel off the cast list and the show stoppers performed but does she critique them? Not in the slightest.
There are also inherent inconsisitencies in formal logic which comes from cutting and pasting between printed source material and one's own critique and actual experience of the evening.
Firstly, the question is not whether A Chorus Line (Tony/Pullitzer award winning musical) will work with 2012's audience who are fans of "So You THink You Can Dance" or "Dancing with the Stars"?
The leading thematic for the review of this production is how can a reproduction of a seventies musical, holds up under different audience expectations and changed perceptions about performing arts in general, as garnered second- hand and passively via TV screens?
My answer to this is that doesn't and notit is not the problem with A Chorus Line!
I have never sat amongst such a less giving Saturday night audience than at what was supposed to be Melbourne's closing night.
What we have in our audiences seem to me at least, be a generation of theatre goers so conditioned by reality television to pick winners early on that there is a loss in sructural dramatic tension as 'perceived' lesser lights and 'failures' are 'voted out'.
This in the seventies was rivetting material and dramatically absorbing; our hearts went out to each one; as we realised a career dream was being thwarted by the usual major theme of tragic theatre "vaulting ambition that o'er leaps itself'. Ms Bannister, describes "the boy in the headband, at this stage a number not even a name, at this satge of the plot, as the one "who can't take his eyes off his feet", thus missing the entire layers of humour built into the script surrounding notions of the 'cattle call', which is necessary for us audinece members to embrace the possible final line dancers... simply as a device to balance the dramatic tension. This is done exceptionally well in this production with the ensemble (presumably the swings... doing a great and un recognised performance each of them).
This show is not about who can dance 'the best'... it is as is oft repeated in the text... who can replicate the 'style required for a 1930's musical'.
Hence the subtlety, and the need for audiences to put aside their C21st aesthetics of contemporary music theatre dance, and say how perhaps the choreography didn't quite live up to expectations.
We do not go along to a production of Anything Goes and say "Gee they Don't tap like the Tap Dogs!"
Forget that a routine for Cassie in 2012 would have incorporated thecurrent theatre musicals' heritage) for exampleFossey musicals, Kander and Ebb, Sondheim and even ALW) and the changed physical demands on the dancers now whho also have to act and sing at equivalent levels of professionalism.
Cassie, (our leading lady's show stopper is a tour de force of energy and stamina given that she is also expected to sign brilliantly and emotionally throughout, without looking exerted as it was in the 70s. Look at how long she holds the stage alone?) However my problem is in this case, sadly, the casting.
By relying only on having seen this production, (again an assumption I am drwaing from the minimal amount of origianl writing and content subtext in Ms Bannister's review [as is inevitable with younger reviewers] often there neeeds to be some degree of objectivity.
The original production has been filmed since the days of videotape so don't tell me it isn't available on CD or download. Whilst I do not always recommend going into the original before coming fresh to the new production... perhaps a little 'comparison-shopping' post attendance and fingers to keyboard would be wise.
I would not be the person to say that Anita Louise Combe does not give us her all, as she has with many of her leading lady roles, she does. But, in this one... sorry, she just isn't Cassie.
Unfortunately for her there are other dancers from the line (with a hair dyed) who could have danced this Cassie into the shadows 9and perhaps might I suggest sing it better also even though she has an excellent leading lady voice), and whilst I can see the Director's decision to go with a small petite red head, reminiscent of Shirley Maclaine; this also is not Cassie . In the finale, Cassie MUST stand tall and strong (totally commanding the consistency of 'the line', centrestage alongside Zach (Josh Horner of TV fame).
Next issue, I have is that Mr Horner might be able to hold his own with the kids and here's the next but... (Firstly costumier get him proper fitting dance pants at least for the finale)... but I beg you, please somebody give some time and attention to voice and delivery as an actor for the major scene in the musical between he and Cassie. It just didn't get there for me, and might I say judging by the lolly unwrapping around me... for others either. Thus the raising narrative line sort of faulters instead of stings.
Also, again audience issues. Where were the virtual ovations for the set pieces that ensure our cast draw from the energy and give us even more?
Sure, Deborah Krizak (Sheila), Hayley Winch (Val), Karlee Misipeke (Diana), Leah Lim (Connie) and Kurt Douglas (Richie) were so solid both in ensemble and overall talent but Australian audiences used to be famous globally, for their open appreciation and generous applause so much so that it actually built the drama and tension, as off-stage voiced Zach would have to time his vocal re-entry perfectly. This was very luke warm in terms of music theatre responses the way it went last night (never the case at Production Company shows I may say and they aren't even fully staged). the only time there was a smattering of cheers was as some cast members were greeted with cheers as their family and friends in the audience responded to their individual bows. (I'm sure they also were there believing this to have been the closing night of the Melbourne Production).
In the same way that Australian theatre audiences appear to have changed for mujsic theatre over the years is my problem with the reviewer stating that some "stories" have "lost their impact over the decades", presumably she is referring to being openly gay, being an innocent Catholic boy unable to speak with a trusted source about his developing sexual maturity, or perhaps even the acceptability of professional drag performers. Stop right there Ms Bannister.
Have you actually travelled to Buffallo, Indiana, Missouri or any of the Bible-belt States even today in the USA in 2011-12?
Do you think just because in Australia we have come baby steps towards tolerance and inclusivity... these themes are dated?
Dated perhaps for educated, middle class white city theatre goers. But what of those from ethnic minorities where such 'life education' remains frowned upon and some of these chosen performing careers remain despised? Reflect for one minute on the scene in PPriscilla as they venuture deeper into the Australian outback via Coober Pedy. This scene, with drag queens and Asian brides, said more about our own nation's acceptance and rascism than anything in this musical to giev lie to my claim that the themes remain to this day of relevance to a large proportion of the Australian audiences.
Remember and foreground the setting in your contextualising your review. It is 1970s NYC with it's ethnic ghettos, migrant family aspirations, a Country where even in school creationism is taught and not Darwinism. The these are NOT dated... nor should the performances of these young men in these roles be so summarily dismissed.
Okay, so perhaps the 2012 production is not revisiting the same 1970s Australia, when this show blitzed the world but the actual dramatic structure of the book remains the same.
This is a review, not a marketing spiel. It opens a space for others to disagree and present alternate points of view... as should all good writing be it in print or online. Just listing cast members, making token references to ensemble show stoppers using hackneyed and cliched descriptors does nothing to re-create the lived experience for the many Melbourne theatre goers unable to purchase tickets.
And here is my big gripe with the Producer... how dare you...market and advertsie from first notification that this would be a strictly limited 35 performances run with no possible extension (this from TML productions major advertising media campaigns last December). Just a personal thankyou to Mr Lawson and team, I scheduled NZ flights home and hotels around the closing performance date, in the hope that we could gather some of the original line in the audience to bring a special frissom of excitement in the ovation and curtain calls.... what ovation or curtain calls? I was even prepared to use some of my frequent flyer points to bring some into Melbourne from other States... and I am not talking about the 90s revival... but the one's Mr Michael Bennett finally decided were good enough to be in HIS show.
And as for pre-reviewing research... how about a little investigation into the perception that in 1975 our own performers were not ethnic enought and Mr Bennett threatening to not bring the Production to Melbourne at all if he couldn't bring his chore NYC cast... a ploy that similarly the year before almost brought the West End theatres to blackness as the Actors Equity stood firm over there. Not so us Aussies... we had two openings... the imports and then the Aussie line, with the talented Raymond and Glenice Nok, Peta Toppano ,Tony Bartuccio, Geoffrey Unkavich and Ronnie Arnold. Funny how Australian Equity ensured that we were able to find talented enough performers who weren't totally WASP after that initial six weeks of so... and they were superb.
So now,the extension is in a week's time finishing with a matinee... oh please, the god almighty dollar reigns again over honesty in marketing. What ever happened to Return season by popular demand? Are these two seasons just "out of town tryouts" for the Asian market before coming back to Sydney?
Apart from the costly expenses incurred just to get to Her Majesty's last night, the remainder of this blog material is what I look for from reviews... the stories behind the stories (called the ANGLE) not the marketing material or total eccentricties of one (identified but possibly inexperienced) reviewer.
Oh by the way,as for credentilism, please allow me to lay mine uup front.
I was a member of Actors Equity from the age of 18 through until my late twenties, studied Performing Arts, Theatre Studies, Cinema Studies, and Australina Film and TV Production... all awarded through degrees, before I even ventured onto the professional airwaves at what was 3LO, 774 Melbourne's Sunday Show with Clive Stark (probably again before your time Ms Bannister). I have also worked front and backstage, in Australia and the West End, and taught professional acting from dressing, pit singing, asm, dsm, usherette, program seller, barmaid... you name it I've had a stint doing it. That was the way we learned and were trained in the old days... watching and learning at the feet of the greats that went before us.
Could I possible by just a whingeing old timer out of date? Sorry to disappoint you Ms Bannister, I am now an academic/researcher whose area of expertise is Creative Industries, Australian and Global. I present papers at colloquiums and nationally on this sector of our Industry and Economy.
Yet I buy my seats like every other punter and expect better from those who might happen upon a comp.