Spanning almost four decades between the 1950s to the late 1980s, A Class Act tells the life story of Bronx-born composer and lyricist, Edward Kleban. In reverse chronological order, the show opens with Kleban's wake in 1988. A congregation of New Yorkers and thespians toast Eddie's life and through their eulogies we're taken on a series of flashbacks, guided by the rather feisty spirit of Eddie Kleban himself. Each momentous occasion in this artist's life is evoked through one of Kleban's many unpublished "trunk" songs, and through this combination of music and events, we follow Eddie’s bumpy road to success and back again. We see his collaboration with Marvin Hamlisch in the creation of the musical hit, A Chorus Line, which whisked up a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize Award, among others. This high is followed by various lows and we see a peak/trough dynamic meander its destructive way throughout Kleban's artistic career and personal life.
This autobiographical tale is beautifully told through Kleban's legacy of lyrics and music. Several songs prompt a lump in the throat including "Self Portrait", touchingly performed by John Barr. "The Next Best Thing to Love" is a lovely piece sung by Eddie Kleban's life-long love and best friend, Sophie – which Sarah Borges poignantly and sensitively delivers. The cast are a strong collective of talented singers: quite a few goose-bumps found their way to my arms, along with a few tingles to my spine. There's a nice balance of comedy too; especially Erin Cornell's risqué and racy number, "Mona" – let's just say the girl knows how to work it! There were a few hot collars in the auditorium.
The show takes a while to get going and certain scenes are a bit slow – but that aside, it's an entertaining and informative journey through the influential time of Eddie Kleban. I found it slightly difficult to connect with the protagonist, perhaps due to Kleban's larger-than-life persona coupled with various psychological disturbances, but this disintegrated into a mere memory towards the latter half of the show when John Barr's performance suddenly became much more real and relatable. Overall though, I believe there should and could be a little more depth to Eddie Kleban.
Without harping on about the negatives, there are a few dodgy accents and certain performances let the side down. Sometimes the truth behind the characters' motivations and actions comes in second to the showy aspect, the musical "performance" as such – in short, some parts are revved and ramped up a bit too much, which comes across as borderline over-the-top and caricature. Saying that, there are some very natural performances – in particular Borges' Sophie (maybe because this is the only character not involved in the arts!).
Where the show perhaps lacks in emotional depth, it makes up for in musical talent. The band is brilliant. MD James Cleeve directs the musicians with ease and the music is just marvellous, and the cast have enough energy and stage presence between them to light up the stage. All in all, this musical showcases pretty strong production values – but once again, the fact it's a musical has resulted in a certain skimming over the deeper meaning. Despite being a true story, I didn't really get the chance to suspend disbelief and go with it. It did move me – but not to tears.