For all the buzz surrounding Marina Bay Sands’ newest theatre showing, there was definitely an equal amount of star power on the Singapore premiere of A Chorus Line on 4 May. Turn and you will spot Irene Ang and her posse of celebrities signed under her artiste management company, Fly Entertainment. Turn the other way and you will spot The Married Men from 91.3FM and Bobby Tonelli, a new addition to The Rude Awakening with Rozz on 987FM. Also, we spotted Sezairi Sezali, who sadly had to cut short his singing career to serve the nation in other (read: militaristic) ways.
However, at the essence of every artiste, no matter what the glamour may bring, is a person hoping to make it big which is exactly the premise behind A Chorus Line, a musical about young and veteran Broadway dancers auditioning for places in a chorus line. It is the sort of premise that may blow over your head if you are a high-flying executive with a six-figure salary and may have forgotten those times when you used to struggle behind a puny desk to get noticed by your boss. (I overheard a discussion where two dapper executives were baffled at the show’s seeming non-plot). Who would want to see a musical about dancers auditioning for a musical anyway? Yes, the rest of us who toil and cut our teeth in so many ways to get to (or aspire to get to) where we are and want to be in life.
The 1975 musical directed by Michael Bennett, plays up the stories of those behind the footsteps as each dancer reveals their backstory; among the 17 dancers that made the cut, Connie Wong laments about her short stature, Mark Anthony recalls when he had mistaken a wet dream for contracting gonorrhoea, Greg Gardner reveals how he would always get unsuspecting erections but never with a woman, Kristine Ulrich sings about how she cannot sing, Diana Morales regrets planning a future in acting only to find she is mocked in class for her lack of talent, and Val Clark admits the truth that every artiste considers: without perky tits and ass, you are nothing. (And she delivers in a hilarious foul-mouthed song that had the audience chuckling along.)
A major story arc is played by Anita Louise Combe, who plays Cassie Ferguson, a former love of choreographer Zach who had a successful career but is now down in the dumps and wants to start anew. We start to see an atypical tension between Zach and Cassie that is played with frustratingly superficial (read: acting vs. feeling it) effect. Once Zach broaches the topic of their past relationship, we begin to see shades of grey as Cassie wises up to Zach’s mistreatment of her during the audition. Anita plays Cassie with much dexterity, as she is devoid of the diva and attitude that time and experience usually grants a female starlet. Instead, Cassie’s bravado and humility shocks not only Zach but myself as not many people who have achieved success will want to start anew. However, her willingness makes it refreshing to watch especially in somewhat confrontational scenes.
As most of the characters are auditioning to be in an ensemble, there is not much attempt to ascertain who are the leading characters – after all, there is no lead in a choral setting. However, Debora Krizak almost steals the thunder from the show with her immaculate portrayal of Sheila Bryant, an aging dancer with a vampy, primadonna personality that is not even once detestable as it is laughable and endearing. From her come-hither gaze to her beauty pageant gait, Sheila is every bit the vixen she appears to be but her childhood past will make you realise why she acts the way she does. Even at the most crucial parts of her character’s life, she acts with so much regality and elegance that it is almost impossible to despise her arrogance, because you will fall for her charm and laugh at her expense.
Another standout lead is Euan Doidge who plays Paul San Marco, a gay Puerto Rican who drops out of high school and seeks solace in being a drag queen until his parents find out his night job. Paul’s masculinity and muscularity certainly does not fool us (and all you macho men out there definitely don’t fool us either, sisters) as he speaks with much fragility about his past in a monologue that does seem a tad too long but carries you on his journey to understand his reticence. At times, it does seem frustrating that such a gay stereotype is being played on stage but at least MDA did not cut this part out (but is focused on other trivial things like Vivian Lai and Kate Pang’s kiss). What leaves us hanging is after he has vividly recounted his drag queen days, Paul breaks down but alas, Euan acts out a half-hearted stage cry rather than actually slump into a pool of uncontrollable tears. It may be exhausting to break down every night during show, but for Paul San Marco, his sensitivity to his past makes it a no-brainer that tears must and will flow often.
What the musical achieves to great effect besides the impeccable, on-point dancing, is fleshing a Broadway show that is not about lavish sets or fancy numbers, but about exploring shades of grey and insecurities; What I Did For Love is an ending reply is unison by all the dancers once they are posed with the question “What will you do when you can no longer dance?”. However, one cannot deny that the character stereotyping and dated ways of thought hark back to the ’70s when homogenised culture was not the norm and people still behaved and articulated in ways native to their own towns. A Chorus Line still manages to keep itself timeless because questioning oneself, shedding the past and making dreams happen is as timeless as hard work and effort ever will be. For that, this is a musical indeed for anyone who has ever struggled and is willing to put everything on the line for one last stab at making it big. A must-see but be prepared that this is not your typical flashy musical. If you have a penchant for stories, struggle and song, A Chorus Line is for you.
P.S. Be warned: no intermission. Do your business before you enter, lest fidgeting in your seat for 2 hours and 5 minutes is your kind of thing.
A Chorus Line runs until May 27 at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands. 7.30pm from Tuesday to Sunday with an additional 1.30pm show on weekends. Tickets are from $55 – $165. Buy your tickets at Sistic by visiting this link.