Pop Culture

A Chorus Line

Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, showing a revival of A Chorus Line

A groundbreaking, Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, A Chorus Line, set a Broadway standard when it debuted in 1975 and remains relevant today. A Chorus Line is a musical with a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by Edward Kleban. It shows an insider’s view of the casting and audition process that goes in a Broadway show, centering around seventeen Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line.

The show won nine Tony Awards, along with a Special Tony Award for becoming Broadway’s longest-running musical in 1984, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1976.

Production History

A Chorus Line was formed from several taped workshop sessions with Broadway dancers known as “gypsies.” The taping for the first session was at the Nickolaus Exercise Center in January 1974, with lead dancers hoping they could form a professional dance company for workshops for Broadway dancers.

Original Broadway productions

The show opened off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975. It was directed by Michael Bennett and co-choreographed by Bob Avian and Bennett. Word about the show quickly spread, creating a demand for tickets that the entire run sold out immediately. A Chorus Line premiered on Broadway in July 1975 at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran until April 1990 for 6,137 performances.

The original cast included:

  • Robert Lupone as Zach
  • Clive Clerk as Larry
  • Donna McKechnie as Cassie
  • Ron Kuhlman as Don
  • Kay Cole as Maggie
  • Wayne Cilento as Mike
  • Baayork Lee as Connie
  • Michel Stuart as Greg
  • Carole Bishop as Sheila
  • Thomas J. Walsh as Bobby
  • Nancy Lane as Bebe
  • Trish Garland as Judy
  • Ronald Dennis as Richie
  • Don Percassi as Al
  • Renee Baughman as Kristine
  • Pamela Blair as Bal
  • Cameron Mason as Mark
  • Sammy Williams as Paul
  • Priscilla Lopez as Dianna

Most of the original cast went on to perform in the Los Angeles production. The new cast of the “New” New York Company included Ann Reinking, Christopher Chadman, Sandahl Bergman, Justin Ross, and Barbara Luna. When the show closed, it became the longest-running show in Broadway history until 1997, when Cats surpassed it.

Original West End production

A London production of A Chorus Line opened in the West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1976. Initially, the international cast from the US retained their roles, including Jane Summerhays as Sheila. The original British cast took over the next year. It included:

  • Jean-Pierre Cassel as Zach
  • Jack Gunn as Larry
  • Elizabeth Seal/Petra Siniawski as Cassie
  • Lance Aston as Don
  • Veronica Page as Maggie
  • Michael Howe as Mike
  • Cherry Gillespie as Connie
  • Stephen Tate as Greg
  • Geraldine Gardner as Sheila
  • Leslie Meadows as Bobby
  • Susan Claire as Bebe
  • Judy Gridley as Judy
  • Roy Gayle as Richie
  • Jeff Shankley as Al
  • Vicki Spencer as Kristine
  • Linda Williams as Val
  • Peter Barry as Mark
  • Michael Staniforth as Paul
  • Diane Langton as Dianna

Plot Overview

A tribute and celebration of the unsung heroes of the musical theatre, the chorus dancers, A Chorus Line examine a day in the lives of seventeen dancers all vying for a spot in a chorus line of a Broadway musical. Chorus dancers are often over-dedicated, highly trained, but are underpaid, and when they back up the star, they make him or her look more talented than they really are. For the most part, the characters portrayed in the show are based on the real-life experiences of Broadway dancers.

The story takes the audience to a roller coaster of emotions as a group of potential Broadway performers is put through a dynamic series of dance numbers. Their numbers are gradually reduced from whom Zach, the director, must make his final choice.

After the first round of cuts, Zach asks each dancer to speak about themselves, asking them to share a personal history of how they came to enter show business, and what are their dreams, hopes, and inspirations. Confessions lead to redemption, discomfort opens into revelation, and within the homogenous chorus group, the audiences begin to see each dancer’s individuality. The audiences can also identify with each dancer and why they endure a life filled with pain, injury, heartache, and rejection to be involved in the glamorous world of Broadway musical theatre. The show ends when the few successful dancers, now dressed in full costume, step forward to receive an individual bow before joining together to perform the dance finale showcasing the talent required to make up that underappreciated essential of every show.

Songs

  • “I Hope I Get It” – Company
  • “I Can Do That” – Mike
  • “And…” – Bobby, Richie, Val, and Judy
  • “At the Ballet” – Sheila, Bebe, and Maggie
  • “Sing!” – Kristine, Al, and Company
  • “Montage Part 1: Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love” – Mark, Connie, and Company
  • “Montage Part 2: Nothing” – Diana
  • “Montage Part 3: Mother” – Don, Judy, Maggie, and Company
  • “Montage Part 4: Gimme the Ball” – Greg, Richie, and Company
  • “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three” – Val
  • “The Music and the Mirror” – Cassie
  • “One” – Company
  • “The Tap Combination” – Company
  • “What I Did for Love” – Diana and Company
  • “One” (Reprise)/Bows – Company

Awards

Original Broadway production

  • Best Musical, Tony Award (1976)
  • Best Book of a Musical, Tony Award (1976) – James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante
  • Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1976) – Donna McKechnie
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1976) – Sammy Williams
  • Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, Tony Award (1976) – Kelly Bishop
  • Best Original Score, Tony Award (1976) – Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban
  • Best Direction of a Musical, Tony Award (1976) – Michael Bennett
  • Best Choreography, Tony Award (1976) – Michael Bennett and Bob Avian
  • Best Lighting Design, Tony Award (1976) – Tharon Musser

Original London production

  • Best New Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (1976)
  • Best Musical, Evening Standard Award (1977)
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