These days A Chorus Line keeps captivating new generations of “Triple-Threat” contenders. (See: A Chorus Line project at the University of Edinburgh– Jan-Feb, 2012)
Opened April 15, 1975 at the Public Theatre in New York; moved July 25, 1975 to the Shubert Theatre. (6137 performances)
It’s 36 years since A Chorus Line danced into our lives. One of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Nothing will ever supplant it in the hearts of a great many theatergoers. A Broadway revival started in 2006 and ended in 2008, followed by A Chorus Line on tour which ended by August 2011. A movie about the making of A Chorus Line has been published under the name: Every Little Step
Composer Marvin Hamlisch visits rehearsals of A Chorus Line in London: with Ashley Nottingham, Jack Wilcox, Gary Wood, Lisa Donmall-Reeve, Nicholas Munro-Clark, Ricardo Coke-Thomas, Samantha Hull, Andrew Waldron, Lizzie Hughes, Harry Francis, Robert Purvis, Stephanie Leanne Fearon and Steph Fearon. -Preparing for production in Israel (at The Israel Opera Tel Aviv )- 2011
The human struggle behind the songs:
Every kid who ever came to New York to work in and around the theater, or anybody who dances for a living in that milieu, will immediately connect with the stories of the characters of A Chorus Line, and upon listening to them will say, “That’s me.”
Which may explain why this is such an emotional show for so many people. A Chorus Line may not stand as the greatest musical in Broadway history, but it’s hard to think of another (all right, West Side Story) that seemed to stir up such feelings on such a scale.
Within the theater community, A Chorus Line will endure as the career pinnacle of the director/choreographer Michael Bennett. The promise of his work on Company and Follies flowered here; the subsequent disappointment of Ballroom would not have seemed so harsh without this towering behind it. Then came Dreamgirls, which was an interesting hit, but not on this level of achievement. And then, what seemed an instant later, Bennett was gone. He wrote neither book nor score for A Chorus Line, but this is his monument, as personal a statement of “this is who I am” as any Broadway-musical creator has put on the stage.
The world knows that in 1974 Bennett tape-recorded the reminiscences of a group of “gypsies”- Broadway chorus dancers, eight of whom would be a part of this original cast– bought the rights to those stories, and convinced Joseph Papp of the non-profit Public Theater to bankroll a workshop that would develop them into a stage musical.
What emerged was a show with no stars, no set, and almost no plot. This struck people as daring in 1975; given what’s been on the Broadway stage in the intervening two decades, “astounding” seems more like it. So much has been written about Papp’s contributions to the theater, but this is all you really need to know: With a non-profit company that was a million and a half dollars in the red, he put up half a million more for no starts, no set, etc., and a creative team which, aside from Bennett, had virtually no track record in the theater. And it worked, and the profits funded the Public’s other work for 15 years. It just about restores your faith in miracles; when you realize that nothing like it has happened since, you see how miraculous it was.
Bennett began pulling together his irregulars at that first taping, offering them a dazzling hundred dollars a week to do the workshop. Nicholas Dante, the original author, was one of those dancers; his recollections form the basis of Paul, the gypsy who debuted in a drag show. James Kirkwood, a novelist and playwright who had been an actor, was brought in to condense, edit, and dramatize.
Lyricist Ed Kleban (a former Columbia Records executive) made his Broadway debut here. But Marvin Hamlisch was already such a name that it’s easy to forget this was also his first Broadway Score. Hamlisch had been one of those teen phenomenons of the Brill Building school, writing the not-bad-at-all “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” for Lesley Gore when he was 16. He made the most of some movie connections and began writing film scores, including, memorably, Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run and Bananas, before striking it rich with the theme song (and Barbra Streisand standard) from The Way We Were. That won him his first Oscar; the second came for his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” in The Sting.
A nanosecond after their Broadway opening, April 15, 1975, before any critics had even had a chance to weigh in, all tickets disappeared. Two months later-it could have been two minutes– they transferred uptown to the Shubert, and the critics fell all over themselves. “The conservative word…might be tremendous, or perhaps terrific,” wrote Clive Barnes in the New York Times. “Possibly the most effective Broadway musical since Gypsy,” said Michael Feingold in the Village Voice. Douglas Watt, in the Daily News:
“I’ve seen it four times now, and each time I’ve left the theater exhilarated after two hours of almost total absorption capped by the most inventive and satisfying final ever devised for a musical.”
And Martin Gottfried in the Post:
“A dazzling show; driving, compassionate and finally thrilling. It is a major event in the development of the American Musical Theater.”
They won everything, the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Award, and nine Tonys, including best musical, two for Bennett (choreography and direction), score, book and cast members Donna McKechnie, Sammy Williams and Carole (Kelly) Bishop. For once, the nobodies– the people in the back, behind the star– triumphed.
Who doesn’t know this story? No curtain, a bare stage with a line painted across it, a dance mirror that comes and goes . Final auditions for dancers in a never-named Broadway show. 24 hopefuls will be cut down to eight, four “boys” and four “girls.” And that’s the suspense, sort of like The Towering Inferno without the special effects, wondering if your favorite will be picked off.