A Chorus Line is 120 minutes of musical theatre marrow-bone. It examines its own genre by shining a glaring light on both the yearned-for glitz of performing on the big stage and on the sweat and tearful heartache, the obverse side of the coin. The storyline follows 17 brash but jittery young hopefuls striving for the eight places in the chorus for a new Broadway show, baring their acting, singing and dancing credentials to the gaze of auditioning director Zach as she mercilessly probes their strengths and prods their weaknesses. Everyone up for this audition has his or her tale to tell, and some of them spill beans from the past that may impact on singling out the necks upon which Zach's casting guillotine is to fall.
This narrative might seem almost too basic a premise to hang a whole musical on, yet there is a slice of time spent examining the now ultra-fashionable theme of identity – how it's questioned and tentatively established – although the long monologue by auditionee Paul on the revelation of his gay self could with advantage be re-written; 1975's take seems almost laughably coy today. Nor have Marvin Hamlisch's rather anodyne songs had much of a life beyond the show. So a production of A Chorus Lineis always going to need the injection of a big dollop of creativity from its movers and shakers in acting, singing and dancing. And this is precisely what RicNic Oxford has given it.
Director Evie Hardy-Baker has somehow managed to squeeze without strain her 17 plus Zach plus early chorus rejects into the small, square OFS playing space. Just her marshalling and drilling of the entrances and exits is a feat. But she's brought thought and imagination to the task of defining individually her 17 in voice, movement and costume. This is no homogeneous bunch, all smiling while gritting their competitive teeth, but living, breathing, desperate people. Choreographer Livi Ridley and Dance Captain Oliver Barker have arranged the big line numbers with panache, closing with a stomping reprise of ‘One’, and the individual dances were picked out with care (Sarah Coumbe's Cassie in ‘Music and the Mirror’ was a delight, and I admired Henry Jensen's tap dancing).
Dexter Drown has directed the excellent band (strong solo flute and dual trumpets) with flair, the lighting is fiery and colourful but not gimmicky, and even the curtain call was carried off with clever grace. The cast contained not a single weak link. If I mention Casey Rouse (Val), a whirlwind of energy, Katie Ledden's (Maggie) strong voice, Cameron Burne's (Richie) acting and movement, and Isaac Jackson, a little younger than the others, a very poignant Paul, I could have picked out any one of the cast for praise. And as Zach, the terrific Laurel Platt was strict, sarcastic, gravelly-voiced and obdurate – horribly plausible!
This was a little co-operative masterpiece from RicNic Oxford. Their energy level was matched by our adrenaline level as we streamed out afterwards. Fans of quality youth theatre should snap up this golden chance to seize the remaining tickets.