Originally conceived, directed, and choreographed by Michael Bennett, A Chorus Line is one of the truest reflections of what it is like to work on Broadway, to step up to the line and have to prove yourself. With music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, the show explores the real stories of 17 Broadway dancers. Each of them giving their account of what it is like to step up to the chorus line, and to find out if you have what it takes, or not.
With an iconic sound track including ‘What I Did For Love’, ‘I Hope I Get It’, and ‘One’, A Chorus Line is rounding out CLOC’s 2017 season at The National Theatre, Melbourne and is playing through until the 28th of October. Theatre People sat down with production director Richard Perdriau, and Musical Director Daniel Heskett to talk about the iconic 1970’s show, and what audiences could expect to see from the production.
As is often the case, real life imitates story, and, like dancers nervously stepping up to the line for an audition, CLOC brought a brand new production team into the proving ground to oversee A Chorus Line. For director Richard Perdriau though, while it is the first time directing for CLOC, he knows the company well. “I have been a CLOC cast member many times so I knew everyone very well and was familiar with the process and level of organisation. Everyone at CLOC has been truly welcoming, trusting, and supportive of the production team.”
These are sentiments that musical director Daniel Heskett echoes, “(The company are) incredibly professional. And organised. Nothing left to chance. But it is done in a way that isn’t so rigid it stifles the creativity or the creative leeway afforded the Production Team.”
Heskett’s attraction to the show was through the obviously iconic score with it’s “killer tunes. Massive brass section, orchestrations to die for, and a show that has constant story telling. It never stops.” And for Perdriau it was simply the “perfect syngery of book, score, movement, and design. Such a profound piece of work to unravel and explore.” This is highlighted in Perdriau’s focus on the history of the show, and the importance of giving a raw and honest performance.
“It is very important to me for the cast to understand the history and underlying themes of A Chorus Line so that they could truly connect to the piece and give honest performances. More books have written on A Chorus Line than any other musical, so it is a very accessible show to research. The more I read, the more I was in awe of (Michael Bennett) and the groundbreaking workshop process he used to create the production.”
Indeed when casting the show, Perdriau says “A Chorus Line is a hard show to cast as all roles require triple threats, but I had faith that if any company could attract the right talent, CLOC could. A high standard of singing and dance is a given. As for acting, A Chorus Line is based on the lives of real Broadway dancers, so I was after people who could connect to the characters, bring part of themselves to the role, and ultimately be prepared to put themselves on the line.“ Heskett was of a similar, if briefer opinion, “Triple threats. End thought process.”
When you are unpacking such raw, honest performances, the rehearsal room can be as tough as the audition room, and Heskett spoke of his rehearsal room philosophy. ‘I like to focus on working hard without taking it too seriously,’ while Perdriau spoke of the excitement and energy that comes with working with a cast full of dancers. “Dancers are a tactile bunch who like to work hard and have fun. We have a great balance of the two. This is the ultimate ensemble piece, so it’s of utmost importance to build trust within the group. I’ve tried to create a space here the cast are prepared to play and experiment.”
Of course both a director and a musical director would have their own takes on their favourite moments of the show, indeed Heskett says that one of his is simply “What I Did For Love. I won’t say why. You’ll just have to see it.” Perdriau expands on this a little further, saying “I love the whole show but I admit there are some consummate moments that give me tingles every time we run. They are just the perfect fusion of dance, vocals, orchestration, lighting, and staging – all climaxing simultaneously.”
Both of them however, share very similar views on the power of the show, and why it stands up after all of these years.” One of the main themes in A Chorus Line is about putting yourself on the line for the chance to do what you love,” says Peridriau, and Heskett agrees, “it’s epic in every sense, and the feeling of relief and accomplishment each time we hit the final note as a group in one piece – amazing”
A show that deals with recreating real stories, and giving a fresh telling of peoples’ lives can be confronting, exposing, and a powerfully transformative experience for an audience. In Perdriau’s words “at a more conceptual level, the show is about life and our common need for love and acceptance. It uses the metaphor of a chorus line, being part of a team, which is ultimately the human race.”
A Chorus Line plays at The National Theatre, Melbourne until the 28th October 2017. Get your tickets at the CLOC website http://cloc.org.au.