Darlinghurst Theatre Company in Sydney is to open its 2020 season with a new, reimagined production of A Chorus Line. Amy Campbell will direct and choreograph the iconic dance musical, which was groundbreaking when it premiered in 1975. It will be the first time that a professional Australian production of the show will feature entirely new choreography.
“It is so exciting! I have dreamt about having the opportunity to do this show for almost three years now, and it’s taken me that long to be ready to re-choreograph it and re-direct it. I cannot wait to get my hands on it,” Campbell tells Limelight.
“It premiered in 1975 so it’s a story that’s lasted nearly 50 years, and choreography that has lasted nearly 50 years. It’s now time to put a 2020 take on it and really show what the talent of today can do with such a classic story.”
Promotional image for Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Photograph © Daniel Shipp
The production follows the success of the musical Once, which had a sold-out, extended season at the 200-seat Eternity Playhouse when the Darlinghurst Theatre Company staged it in July this year, directed by Richard Carroll with choreography by Campbell.
Set on the bare stage of a Broadway theatre, A Chorus Line centres on 17 dancers who are desperately auditioning for eight chorus roles in a musical. The show unfolds through a series of vignettes, giving us a glimpse into the personalities of the people auditioning, revealing the life experiences that propelled them to become dancers, along with their hopes, fears, insecurities and frustrations. The show famously ends with an epic kick line as they don glitzy costumes, having previously worn rehearsal gear. Songs from the show include What I Did For Love, At the Ballet, I Can Do That, Dance: Ten; Looks: Three, The Music and the Mirror and One.
A Chorus Line was originally directed by Michael Bennett, who also co-choreographed with Bob Avian. Bennett was part of the devising process, which saw 24 dancers interviewed about their life and career as raw material from which to create the musical. Featuring music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, A Chorus Line opened at New York’s Public Theatre in April 1975, then transferred to the Schubert Theatre on Broadway in July 1975, where it ran for 15 years. It won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Choreography, as well as the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
It was last staged professionally in Australia in 2012 when Baayork Lee – who played Connie in the original Broadway cast – directed and re-staged a touring production.
Amy Campbell. Photograph supplied
Campbell is excited about approaching the show afresh. “These stories were based on real people and I want to show that almost 50 years later these stories translate across time, gender and ethnicity. Themes of bullying, racism, sexism, power and passion are still faced every day, just as they were in the 1970s. We like to think we’ve come so far, but have we?” she says.
She admits that while she is thrilled to be leading a new production, re-imaging such a classic show is also a little daunting. “Whenever you get the opportunity to work on an iconic show it comes with a lot of pressure and preconceived ideas, and you definitely want to give the audience what they love about the show. But there’s also this bit of magic that is allowed in the freedom of re-seeing an iconic musical, so you can give people the chance to see it as if for the first time again, and I think that’s a really rare opportunity,” says Campbell.
As to how different her choreography will be, she says: “I am a dancer-dancer at heart so I know how difficult the choreography of the 1970s production was. I have attempted to learn it many times throughout my career. I will definitely pay tribute to it, but we live in such a world of diverse styles that I really want to draw on all my different influences and versatility to come up with a new vocabulary that will be equally as hard, absolutely! And exciting and dynamic. ‘Athletic’ is the word that I am really envisioning for the choreography.”
The original orchestrations must be respected so the score will be recorded. As to whether some of the dancers will play musical instruments live, Campbell won’t be drawn at this stage. “I want to create the show without any boundaries. It’s a show where these dancers are multi-faceted performers so who knows if they will be playing a piano as well as back-flipping and singing for their life. At the moment, anything is possible with this show,” she says.
Campbell’s credits as a choreographer include In the Heights for Blue Saint Productions in association with the Hayes Theatre Co, for which she won a Sydney Theatre Award and a Helpmann nomination, Violet also for Blue Saint Productions in association with the Hayes, a sold out production of Spring Awakening for ATYP, Funny Girl the Musical in Concert and Porgy and Bess for Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Candide for Sydney Philharmonic Choirs, and of course Once at the Eternity Playhouse, among other shows.
Directing A Chorus Line in such a small space doesn’t faze her. “I think I am building a bit of a reputation for putting big shows in small spaces and I think that’s a part of the challenge. I think having an intimate space allows you to trust the story and the show more because the audience are right there, you are not relying on massive sets and other elements to sell your story, it’s literally these performers, their talent, and the music of Marvin Hamlisch,” she says.
“[The audience are] going to feel like they’re in it, they’re going to feel like they’re auditioning as well. They will definitely walk out with an opinion on who should have booked the job and who didn’t. It gives [you] a front row seat into what dancers actually go through when they are auditioning for a job, so it will be like a real-time experience.”
A Chorus Line will open on March 18. Tickets go on sale at 5pm on September 25. The Darlinghurst Theatre Company will announce the rest of its 2020 season on October 14