by Morey Storck –
A Chorus Line opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on July 25, 1975, with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante. The musical was conceived, choreographed and directed by Michael Bennett, and for the first time, effective control moved from the creators to the director. The production ran for 6,137 performances on Broadway. The story is based on taped backgrounds and ambitions from all the auditions of everyone who tried out for the show. The idea was to identify the typical Broadway “gypsy” chorus line of dancers with a new and different “stream-of-consciousness in dance dialogue.”
Originally, this very fast-paced production was framed and shaped at the off-Broadway Joseph Papp Public Theatre, and there, at its downstairs 299-seat theatre, A Chorus Line gave its first try-out performance, reportedly, before a wildly, cheering audience. The Westchester Broadway Theatre’s brilliant production holds closely to the final Broadway show.
It opens during a vigorous weeding-out audition with a song entitled “I Hope I Get It.” The task-master in charge of the audition, choreographer and dance-master, Zack (David Elder) plays this role “my-way tough,” exacting, critical, at times encouraging, but always authentic. Zack runs groups of dancers through the same routines multiple times. And, he is supported by his very able assistant Larry (Brian Dillon), an excellent dancer who could be given more exposure.
One by one the gypsy dancers step out front from the long auditioning chorus line to clarify to the audience their previous experiences, attitudes and ambitions. Mike, (Drew Carr) is the first to tell his story as a Bronx kid who fills in for his sister at dance class with a terrific rendition of “I Can Do That,” employing most of the then-current multi-beat dance routines performed during auditions. He gets the WBT applause meter exploding first, but the rest of the “line” soon get their time to blast out, one by one.
Sheila, Bebe, Maggie (Lauren Sprague, Kelsey Walston, Emily Kelly) realize their unhappy family life was relieved by experiencing the rigors and beauty of ballet. “At the Ballet” is danced stunningly and expressively. Kristine (Ashley Linkger), tone-deaf and scatter-brained but a very effective dancer, delivers “Sing,” with her dutifully supportive husband Al (Tim Fuchs) assuring and complementing her all the way. Mark (PJ Palmer) recalls memories of his first adolescent wet dream in “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love.” An intimate revelation.
In “Nothing,” Connie (Tiffany Chalothorn) presents a fantastic choreographic bio of what it feels like to be extra short, and Diana (Alexandra Matteo) describes with humor what she didn’t get in her high school acting class. “Dance Ten, Looks Three” gives Emma Degerstedt, as Val, a rousing opportunity to command the stage with “Tits and Ass,” and she certainly takes advantage of it. In the same section, Richie (Kevin Curtis) demonstrates his powerhouse moves to a delighted and enthusiastic audience.
Now we come to the soul of the show. Cassie (Erica Mansfield), dressed in a red leotard, with a rich red spotlight bathing her in front of the signature mirrored backdrop and dramatically alone on stage, gives a sensational performance full of manicured nuances conveying feelings of joy and loss, of need and courage. Hers is a struggle of being on the crest of her career’s end, but her grit to continue to prove that she still has it, makes her go on. She was never really on top, never a star. But, she was a dancer, a gypsy. Cassie didn’t want to act. Didn’t want to sing. She wanted to dance. “Just give me the music and the mirror and the chance to dance for you.”
The play’s action then builds dramatically to “One,”a thumping vamp that is identi fied, even today, with A Chorus Line. Its vibrancy and spirit is contagious with cast and audience alike. “One singular sensation with every little step she takes” seems, at first, to select an anonymous “one” to represent the many. But, as Donna McKechnie, the show’s original Cassie and the show’s star comments: “We found we didn’t need to make Everyman the One. Every person in that line was the One.”
“What I Did for Love” is acknowledged to be Hamlisch’s reach for the only real commercial hit of the show. It is. Sung by Diana and company, the potent yet lovely song describes what they will do when they can no longer dance. Whatever happens, they agree, there will be no regrets. What they did, they did for love. Alexandra Matteo gives an extraordinary, show-stopping performance, and an appreciative audience responds with resounding applause.
And then the eagerly awaited brash and beautifully costumed chorus line dramatically lines up on stage. Their precision Rockette-like high kick routine brings on a roar, building a momentum which reveals a robust recognition of the true and beloved glitz historic Broadway musicals deliver. Represented on stage are not only the audition winners but the entire cast. Michael Bennett sums it up: “There are no bows. I don’t believe in bows, just fade-outs. That’s what a dancer’s life is.”