Compared with the likes of West Side Story and Cabaret, Richard Attenborough's adaptation of this hugely popular 1975 Broadway musical to the big screen had a mixed reception. There's such a vibrant and determinedly avid fan base that goes with A Chorus Line, that it's possibly the only one that truly belongs on the stage, where it can continue to vary its cast and allow the audience to become the judges of these famed characters.
By the look of this audience, the most avid of the show's fans are here in Sheffield, practically joining in with the musical numbers. The Crucible has ample room for 26 hoofers - not to mention some local newcomers making their professional stage debuts - to boast their talents, and altogether it's a very accomplished ensemble putting life into the original Michael Bennett choreography.
Rhoda Montemayor is the diminutive Connie, coming in to audition at 32 years old and 4'10" in height and airlifted across the stage by Mike (David Sellings) and Greg (Sebastien Torkia), in a spontaneous gesture of solidarity. You'll see none of this on Pop Idol. This is nostalgic showbiz razzmatazz which has honesty at its heart. The hopefuls line up, and each is confronted by the director Zach's (Jason Durr) insistence that they tell their, sometimes difficult, life stories. Simon Cowell he is not, but then, in happy comparison, neither will ever be the star of the show.
Apart from a slight microphone crackle distracting the solos, the songs are performed faultlessly. Still, there's a sense that the actors struggle with the magnitude of the production. In the middle of it all, Josefina Gabrielle's Cassie, ex-lover to Zach, makes less impact than is expected by the fan faithful.
Instead of building up to its finale of "One. Singular Sensation", the production breaks for a 20-minute intermission, during which you can't help but wonder whether director and choreographer Nikolai Foster and Karen Bruce respectively, have managed to re-create Bennett's definitive staging.
Reluctantly, I'd say no, they haven't. But it speaks volumes for this inspirational musical that, after so many years, it still provokes a standing ovation. If the level of enthusiasm for what has essentially become a tribute to its original choreographer and cast members remains as high as it is, A Chorus Line will continue to be lovingly preserved well beyond the time when it begins to lie about its age.
- Dawn Jessop