London -- If there's any evidence that A Chorus Line doesn't remain one of the great musicals, it's nowhere in view at the Palladium. That's where Bob Avian -- who co-choreographed the original production at the Public Theater in 1975 -- and Baayork Lee -- who was in that production and has helped recreate Michael Bennett's choreography since then -- have worked miracles again.
The superb opus, not seen locally since it was introed here in the late 1970s, is likely the first major revival anywhere since the death of composer Marvin Hamlisch, which means that, aside from keeper-of-the-flame Avian, all the other creators -- Bennett, lyricist Ed Kleban, librettists James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante -- are gone.
They're not forgotten, however, nor could they be when their joint legacy is this exhilarating entertainment. On its surface, of course, it's about dancers auditioning for an unnamed tuner -- and based on taped autobiographies given by many of the original cast members. At a deeper level, it's an inspired metaphor for the life auditions just about everyone, dancer or no, is required to give on a daily basis.
Part of Bennett's genius when putting A Chorus Line together -- and perhaps his guarantee that no one else would have the gall to reinterpret him -- was setting his blocking in stone. It's well-known that even the postures the character assume when standing still in that famed line brook no modifications.
What cast members bring to performances are what they're able to inject of their own personalities while hewing to Bennett's -- and Avian's and Lee's -- sacrosanct blueprint. It's a blueprint that also dictates use of the spare set (sometimes enhanced by mirrors) that Robin Wagner designed back then, the Theoni V. Aldredge costumes and the Tharon Musser lighting -- none of which could be improved upon anyway.
The Palladium singer-dancer-actors -- including Scarlett Strallen as Cassie, John Partridge as Zach, Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana -- are all super. Indeed, an extra-added plus here is the production's laying to rest the belief -- if it still exists -- that dancing like they do on Broadway doesn't happen much this side of the pond. If I remember correctly, the initial Chorus Line production here was unmistakably below Manhattan par.
Not now. Times -- if not time-steps -- have changed. Yes, there are a few American ringers in the corps, but it's a challenge to pick them out from the native players. That goes for their accents as well.
Bennett placed A Chorus Line in the year it bowed, and the program still says, "Time: 1975." Why shouldn't it be? Everything that happens in the intermisssionless two hours -- concluding with "One" in which individuality is championed in the context of thrilling conformity -- proclaims about 1975 that it was a very good year. Better than that. This masterpiece confirms it was a great year.
Dear World? Dear me! Jerry Herman's musical (Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee were the librettists) is now revived at the Charing Cross Theatre. Squatting there woefully, it begs this question: Why?
Promotion for the unearthing has it that the failed 1969 tuner is Herman's favorite among his tuneful and beloved output. (Didn't he say the same thing when gearing up for the local Mack & Mabel revival some years back?) He's on record as believing the problem 44 years ago was its being overblown for Broadway presentation. All along, he maintains, he intended it as a chamber piece.
(It was going into a Broadway house. Angela Lansbury, just out of Mame, was the star. What did he think was going to happen?)
Ok, now in a new David Thompson version, it's a chamber piece directed and choreographed methodically by Gillian Lynne. Guess what? It's no better than it ever was. (Is it worse? Maybe.) What it has going for it in the current incarnation are the same couple of strong Herman songs it always had -- "Kiss Her Now," "And I Was Beautiful" and the intensifying Francophilic waltz, "I Don't Want to Know."
Betty Buckley, who's played this town before, is back to take on Jean Giraudoux's Madwoman of Chaillot, as adapted by Maurice Valency, but in the tale of a supposed madwoman triumphing over corporate corruption in post-World War II Paris, she's nowhere near the top of her form.
The temptation is to say that Buckley appears to be not so much mad (in the loony-bin sense) as bad (in the unsatisfactory sense). For starters, her voice isn't what it once was, and she definitely gives the impression she's aware of the modest erosion. Perhaps it's more appropriate to report that Buckley -- at her best when portraying domineering women -- and this role -- calling for the kind of daft behavior previous Countess Aurelia interpreter Lansbury conjured with ease -- are not well matched. Anything more, you don't want to know.