“Did you actually see this on Broadway?” I asked the woman next to me who’d boasted of the fact. “Why did it flop?” “Oh,” she said, “it opened the same time as The Producers and nothing could survive in that shadow”. Not sure you can lay the three-month run of A Class Act at the door of one successful show, it had too many flaws and too few hits to make it on its own.

Neatly chosen by The Landor to coincide with the London revival of A Chorus Line it charts the rise and fall of that show’s lyricist Edward Kleban from quirky student in the BML (Book Music and Lyrics) group to tragically early demise from complications of throat cancer after mental illness.

He may be a one-hit wonder but with 9 Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize, Kleban had nothing to be ashamed of and this resilience as well as his obsessive behaviour is brilliantly captured in John Barr’s fervent performance, although while he inhabits the character as well as any actor could, the script lacks true depth and you don’t understand all the motivations as clearly as you’d like.

It’s a slow burner, and the first act feels ten minutes too long, but it does contain the only other recognizable Kleban song: from the ‘trunk’ of material writers Linda Kline and Lonny Price sifted for the show, only ‘One More Beautiful Song’ has any residual popularity, and if it weren’t for the snatches of hits from ‘A Chorus Line’ featured in the second act this would be a pretty thin score.

Nonetheless, the cast sing up a storm, and the band led by James Cleeve adds value to the orchestrations. There’s a delightful surprise in the cast with veteran Barry Fantoni coaxed out of what I’m fairly sure was retirement to play Kleban’s mentor Lehman Engel with nice weight and wry delivery. Although I’ve loved his writing in Punch and Private Eye, it’s good to see him back on the boards.

Remote GoatOriginally published on RemoteGoat.com