Bridgend Youth Theatre’s Chorus Line dazzles at the Grand Pavilion

Monday, 4 March 2019

– Entertainment

by Philip IrwinGEM Reporter


Review by Philip Irwin.

Images by Dan Minto Photography.

The Bridgend Youth Theatre (BYT) staged a dazzling 20th birthday celebration last week at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl.

Not just dazzling because the finale features the 70-strong cast on stage in gold costumes, but because the young performers did justice to a show that is not at all easy – the classic Broadway musical, Chorus Line.

It’s a tricky proposition because all the cast – and about 16 have featured roles – have to convince as dancers, and also act and sing.

It was 14 years ago that the BYT last performed Chorus Line, and that was a year when at least eight went on to perform professionally on stage.

The show does have one advantage though. Although it is set in the 1970s, it doesn’t date. At it’s heart is something we all relate to – the interview process. Who out there hasn’t at one time or another sweated over what to say, and faced the fear of rejection?

The star choreographer Zach (played by a namesake, Zak Rossaye) has over 40 dancers turning up for an audition. The opening number reveals that they are all desperate to get hired, and he says that he needs four boys and four girls.

In the Richard Attenborough movie, this role was played by Michael Douglas, and Zak compared very favourably as he roamed the stage, barking out technical dance move instructions.

However, he decides that for this show, he needs to know more about the auditionees, and he asks them to take turns to step forward and talk about their lives, hopes and fears.

A bit of a power trip for Zach? It certainly spooks some of the dancers, who panic about what to say, and try to guess what he wants to hear.

The spanner in the works is Cassie (Meg Morris). Zach doesn’t need to know about Cassie. They were an item once and, it transpires, each felt that the other ended the relationship.

What we do know is that Zach rated Cassie, and wanted her to move on and not settle for life in the chorus but go for leading roles. She is just back from LA, where things went badly, and she wants to start her career all over again.

Back in January, Meg played Nancy in Porthcawl Comprehensive’s Oliver!

She was good in that show, but in Chorus Line she was terrific. Perhaps it’s easier for a young woman to relate to Cassie. Nancy, after all, lives in fear of Bill Sykes, but Cassie doesn’t defer to anyone. She stands up to Zach and the scenes where they argue were intense and powerful.

Most people in the audience aleady knew she could sing and dance, but she revealed a serious stage presence. Meg is planning to move on to drama college, and this performance will stand her in good stead.

People who don’t know Chorus Line often ask what songs are in it, and it’s true that they don’t have much of a life outside the show.

However, it is full of great numbers, and they require good singers. The first number that showcases their talents is ’At The Ballet’, where the shy Maggie (Lili Mohammed), cynical Sheila (Nim Jenkins), and the nervous Bebe (Carys Morgan) reveal that, despite their different upbringings, they were all inspired to dance by seeing a ballet company.

As their voices combined and soared, a ballet company, choreographed by Sian Dixon, danced in the background.

(Note: One or two roles were shared, so other other audiences will have seen Courtney Taylor play the role of Bebe).

There are comedy numbers in the show too, but one which requires a fine voice is Diana Morales (Aisling McCormack-Thomas), who tells of how she felt out of place in drama school, feeling ’Nothing’ in improvisation class.

It’s a funny song with a big finish, and it’s also an ensemble piece, with the cast reacting to what she says, and Aisling brought the house down. It was good to see this, because Aisling has been a BYT regular for quite a while now, and it was a really well-deserved standing ovation.

There was an energetic light-hearted number from Jude Blake as Tom, who tells how he started dancing after being taken along to his elder sister’s dance classes, in the song ’I Can Do That’.

Another comedy number is ’Sing’ in which the two Ulrich two sisters (Sophie Price and Eliza Barrett) combine with their husbands Al (Patrick O’Neil) and Don (Jack Williams) to explain that they are dancers because they can’t sing on key, no matter how hard they try.

But the standout comedy number was by Lili Smith, who played Val, a talented dancer who could not get work until she surgically enhanced her figure. The song is officially called ’Dance: Ten; Looks: Three’ but everyone knows it as ’Tits and Ass’.

It was another performance that brought the house down, as Lili has the poise and the sense of humour to hold the audience’s attention. As she is off in September to study at the Wales International Academy of Voice, where they sing serious music, this could have been the last time she ever sings this number.

Bobby and Paul, played respectively by Robert Davis and Richard Price had monologues, and they couldn’t have been more different. Bobby puts up a front and sketches out a childhood that has clearly been difficult, but he plays it for laughs.

Paul on the other hand, reluctantly opens up to Zach, telling him how difficult it had been to grow up gay in a conventional Puerto Rican family. It’s his scene that has the biggest emotional impact (and another standing ovation) and soon after, with the audience now rooting for him, his knee goes and he is whisked off to hospital.

This prompts the cast to face up to life when their dancing days are over, and the show’s emotional climax ’What i did For Love’ was a triumph, with Aisling McCormack-Thomas, Lili Mohammed and Lili Smith very much to the fore.

There are so many other things to praise in the show. A great high-energy dance number, led by the athletic Huw Evans, playing Richie, was special, with the full cast making it work brilliantly.

At one stage, Cassie has a mini breakdown and she cowers in the corner while her ’other self’ dances for her. Elin Little stepped in to this spot and danced beautifully.

I think I’ve seen all the BYT shows since 2003, and BYT director Roger Burnell and his team always add something to every show, and one constant over the years has been the total concentration on stage from the cast, no matter what age. Wherever you look, someone is doing somthing interesting.

I’ve said it many times before, but the Bridgend Youth Theatre is a real jewel in the crown of Bridgend county borough.

Production team:

Artistic director – Roger Burnell.

Assistant director – Shelley Rees-Owen.

Lead choreographer – Annie Davies.

Street dance choreographer – Greg Sage.

Ballet choreographer – Sian Dixon.

Musical director – Meryn Williams.

Assistant musical director – Daniel White.

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