“God I hope I get it...I really need this job” sing the dancers who are auditioning in A Chorus Line. It’s Broadway and 1975 – 17 dancers have made the original cut, but director Zach has to further cut that number to 8. This is the ‘musical about musicals’ whose creator Michael Bennett tape-recorded the different stories and life perspectives of Broadway dancers, and used them as the basis of the show. In an age of endless fascination for the audition process now televised on reality TV shows, with the participants competing for an opportunity for fame, here are characters whose ambition is not to be the star of the show, but to ‘shadow’ the star in the chorus. In reality their dreams, goals and aspirations are universal of course, but as Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line’s original Cassie) revealed in her recent London solo cabaret (reviewed on this site), showbiz is far from glamorous a lot of the time.

Gary Watson’s Zach (usually played by John Partridge) spends most of his time as an unseen presence at the back of the stalls barking out orders, but is a commanding presence when on stage. Zach demands that the dancers reveal more than just the factual details that are on their CVs, and each dancer – dressed casually but distinctively in striking dance gear – takes their turn in the spotlight, revealing  inner secrets from childhood, what motivates them, their dreams and humiliations. Victoria Hamilton-Barrett is the feisty, humourous and direct Diana Morales from the Bronx, who in one of the show’s standout numbers feels ‘Nothing’ from an uninspiring dance teacher, Mr Carp. Gary Wood gives a beautifully told and genuinely understated monologue as Paul San Marco, a young gay guy from Spanish Harlem, who has a breakthrough moment with his conservative family while working in a revue show. Leigh Zimmerman is full of ironic humour, put-downs and verve, as Sheila, an older dancer who’s been around the block and is ‘going to be 30 real soon’, challenging Zach and the audition situation throughout. And Scarlett Strallen is the vibrant Cassie, an ex-lover of Zach’s who ended their relationship due to his obsession with work, and who is returning to audition for the chorus following a failed attempt at a career in LA. Persuading Zach that this is where she really belongs, Strallen dances up a storm in an impressive solo display in ‘The Music and the Mirror’.

A Chorus Line is very simply staged – although it is playing at the Palladium, one of the largest houses in town (and with a proscenium arch wide enough for the line of dancers), the actual staging is very minimalist. The focus here is on the words and movement of the dancers within a black box of a stage, with mirrors appearing against the rear wall to reflect them and the dance from time to time, creating a dream and fantasy-like ethos. A white line is painted across downstage which the dancers stand behind, and the performers move back and forth downstage and upstage throughout, changing the dynamic of the line as they have their individual moments, with several of their stories woven together in the stunning ‘At the Ballet’ sequence. The lighting is particularly well designed, not just for the big dance sequences (and showbiz ending) but for the individual moments too.

This is an ‘authentic’ production of A Chorus Line in that original co-choreography Bob Avian now directs, and Baayork Lee – the original Connie (the diminutive dancer who complains of being ‘4 foot 10’) – choreographs. However, it’s far from a period piece. The ethos of the show resonates with anyone who has ever experienced hopes and dreams, disappointment or frustration, and the dancers’ stories are surprisingly moving and absorbing. The irony of A Chorus Line is that no show or contract will last forever, of course – careers are cruelly short, and the very nature of the job is precarious. One of the dancers is injured, and the group have to face up to what to do if they were forced to change direction. Hamilton-Barrett’s Diana vocalises the price they have to pay, pulling at the heart strings in ‘What I Did For Love’, which segues into the glitzy finale featuring Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban’s most famous number from the score, ‘One’. The powerful fusion of song, drama and choreography that is A Chorus Line is back in town at last – and it’s still a singular sensation.