Director: Thom Southerland
With the reopening of theatres and the Theatre Café itself, the Theatre Channel shows no signs of slowing down. In fact Episode 6: Showstoppers shakes things up a bit with a new-look ensemble making-up the Café 5, an extended mini-movie celebration of A Chorus Line and an even more adventurous approach to creating a new set of music videos performed by an impressive line-up of stars.
The 45-minute featurette is perhaps the most unexpected but welcome addition to the Theatre Channel episodes, providing a mini-documentary celebrating the work of Michael Bennett and Bob Avian in the genesis and history of A Chorus Line. John Breglio and original performer Baayork Lee, who as self-appointed ‘guardians’ of the show, oversee revivals and discuss the co-created nature of the original show based on the lives of the dancers.
An even bigger coup for Episode 6 is an interview with Antonio Banderes who opened his new theatre in Malaga with a native-language version of A Chorus Line in which he also stars. Banderes talks with passion about a musical that means a great deal to him, revealing that his production is ‘probably’ going to Broadway when theatres reopen and will be performed in Spanish. He reminds anyone who thinks a stage profession is not viable that “I am an actor because of theatre”. This analytical documentary is a very insightful look at the show’s past and its future.
Elsewhere in the episode, it is business as usual for the Theatre Channel with five additional performances mixing familiar musical choices with less well-known pieces filmed in increasingly ambitious styles. It must have been an early start for Katie Deacon whose version of The Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line begins in the semi-darkness of a rehearsal room, with Deacon’s red leotard picked out in the darkness as her performance becomes increasingly sultry. But soon director Thom Sutherland abandons the interior and takes Deacon onto the very empty streets of London, cutting together sequences performed in an almost empty Piccadilly Circus and on one of the Golden Jubilee Bridges across the Thames – a notable expansion from the café confines used in other episodes.
Kerry Ellis also had to get up early to record her track Always Starting Over from If/Then, an emotional piece to a lost love which Sutherland stages in the charming garden of the Actor’s Church in Covent Garden before spilling out into the empty piazza. Location filming also takes Layton Williams to the underpass that houses the Charing Cross Theatre where part of his equally expressive Hold Me in Your Heart from Kinky Boots is staged with a clear father-son narrative.
Back in the Theatre Café, and fresh from his critically acclaimed performance as Joe Gillis in Curve Leicester’s Sunset Boulevard, Danny Mac is one of the episode’s big draws singing Moving Too Fast from The Last Five Years (a version from Southwark Playhouse about to make its own West End debut) involving cleverly managed fantasy sequences, while Jack Malin unites with the Café 5 to celebrate venues reopening with an anthemic version of There’s No Business Like Showbusiness.
Episode 6 is all about storytelling, moving beyond the Café setting to create greater context around the selected numbers, not least Who Will Love Me As I Am and I Will Never Leave You from Side Show performed by Jade and Amber Davies as conjoined twins singing to their dressing room mirrors. With a Rodgers and Hammerstein special promised for Episode 7, the Theatre Channel is far from shutting-up shop and this latest edition continues to push boundaries in the creation of musical theatre content.