Wednesday, November 24, 2010
My Most Memorable Theatre Experiences: #1 A Chorus Line
From the opening number, I understood that I was witnessing an audition process where a director was preparing to cast a dancing chorus for a Broadway show. When we got to the montage of "Hello 12, hello 13" I was surprised by the honesty in the characters' stories from childhood. But by the time we reached "The Music and the Mirror," it began to hit uncomfortably close to home. On a side note, I was completely star struck by Charlotte D'Amboise in the role. I don't know that I've ever truly had my breath taken away by a performer in the way that I had with her. Cassie speaks for everyone who has ever stood at the end of a kickline when she says "sure I'd love to be a star, but I'm not, I'm a dancer." I've performed with troupes before where directors told us, "we perform as we line, we don't want any Cassies trying to stand out." Having heard this time and time again, I expected Cassie to be a complete diva, but what I realized throughout "The Music and the Mirror" was that Cassie was just as shy and scared as every other dancer on that line and all she wanted was to return to what she did best-to dance.
A Chorus Line is probably one of the most commonly performed musicals in the world and countless directors try to interpret it differently, most often taking it out of its original 1970s setting and trying to modernize it. I've seen this fail time and again, always for the same reason. This show is about one thing, and one thing only, the role of the dancer in musical theatre, something which has changed drastically since the 1970s. Back then, dancers were known as "chorus kids" or "gypsies" because when one show closed, they would perform in another, going virtually unnoticed. When Michael Bennett created A Chorus Line in a dance studio based on conversations he had with Broadway dancers, the Braodway dancer was to be seen and not heard, and made a fraction of the salaries paid to the actors and singers in shows. Once the 1980s hit, the mega musical was born and performers were forced to become triple threats (singers, dancers, and actors) if they wanted to audition for Broadway. The age of the true Broadway gypsy became a bygone era, which is why A Chorus Line is now considered a period piece and should remain as such.
Now back to my memory...by the end of the show I was so involved with the characters and could see myself in every one of these dancers trying to prove that they deserved a spot on that line. The 11 o'clock number, "What I Did For Love" is the tearjerker of the show, but for me it was a moment of great catharsis. It validated every sacrifice I had every made and would continue to make in my life for dance. It made me feel such a sense of camaraderie with not only the characters, but the actors themselves. This was one of the few times when I truly believed the performers onstage were living rather than acting because they weren't simply playing dancers, they were dancers. This show has not only become one of my favorites, but A Chorus Line has become a part of me as it pays tribute to those who would give up everything they have, for the chance to dance.