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Revisiting the heartfelt dreams of dancers: `A Chorus Line' comes home to Broadway

Revisiting the heartfelt dreams of dancers: `A Chorus Line' comes home to Broadway

In April 1975, a production opened downtown at the Public Theater that was to electrify the American musical theater.
"A Chorus Line" told the story of a group of dancers auditioning for a big Broadway show.
Not only did audiences get to watch these performers try out for eight spots in "the line," they got to know them as real people, learning about their hopes, fears, egos, insecurities and why they wanted to dance.
Now "A Chorus Line" is back on Broadway _ the show's first New York revival after its then record-breaking 15-year run. But don't look for a radical reinterpretation of the landmark musical. Except for a few minor tweaks, it preserves the vision of creator Michael Bennett say the two people who have been the keepers of his flame for the last three decades.
Bob Avian and Baayork Lee have lived with "A Chorus Line" since its birth _ Avian as the show's co-choreographer and Lee as a cast member of the original 1975 production. Both are at the center of the legendary show's return to Broadway, with Avian directing and Lee remounting the choreography created by Avian and Bennett, who died of an AIDs-related illness in 1987. It's an emotional homecoming not only for them, but for many theatergoers as well.
Why this visceral response to a show that initially closed in 1990, at the time, the longest-running show in Broadway history?
"A Chorus Line" "speaks the truth," Avian said in an interview a week before the revival's Oct. 5 opening at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. "I think everybody in the audience, at some point or another, identifies with the dancers on the stage. They have all gone through having ... their young wishes and aspirations. I think they see themselves up on the stage."
Or as Michael Berresse, who portrays Zach the director in this new "Chorus Line," said, "We live in a time when we are all starved for something we can relate to _ and these are real stories about real people following their dream."
"A Chorus Line" was conceived by Bennett, a one-time chorus kid from Buffalo, New York, who in the early 1970s was beginning to make his mark, choreographing such Stephen Sondheim musicals as "Company" and "Follies." "A Chorus Line" would instantly propel him into the ranks of such great director-choreographers as Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse and Gower Champion.
Bennett taped interviews with real-life dancers, paying them $1 (79 euro cents) each for their stories and later royalties from that production and subsidiaries of it. But the current revival is not covered by the royalty agreement, according to a New York Times story.
From those tapes, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante fashioned a book. Composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Ed Kleban wrote the score. And when "A Chorus Line" moved later that year to Broadway's Shubert Theatre, it became, in the words of one of its songs, "a singular sensation." It won the Tony Award for best musical and the Pulitzer Prize, and ran for more than 6,000 performances.
Talk about a major Broadway revival surfaced soon after the show closed in April 1990.
"We were getting asked by theater owners and even fans to do `A Chorus Line' again," Avian recalled. But producer John Breglio, Bennett's lawyer, business adviser and the executor of his estate, decided to wait for almost a generation to pass before New York saw the musical, which he has described as "of its time and timeless."
"We weren't sure (2006) was the right time," Avian said. "Then we announced the show and there was tremendous interest, first when we played San Francisco." Tickets sold quickly, and the musical did hefty business there as well as in New York where preview performances have been playing to more than 90 percent capacity.
But Avian acknowledged some trepidation about re-creating what many musical-theater buffs consider the perfect show.
"My enthusiasm had been dulled after all these years," the director said. "But the moment (the dancers) started coming in and the music started ... and there was Baayork teaching them the dancing, my heart started pounding and I was going, `Oh, my God, it is exciting. It is fun.'"
"A Chorus Line" reinvented how the theater industry _ and audiences as well _ looked at dancers.
The show helped put the term "triple threat" into the popular vocabulary, said Lee, who portrayed Connie in the original and who danced in nearly a dozen other Broadway musicals. "With `A Chorus Line,' you had to sing, dance and act," she said. "We call it `the full package.'"
"The bar is higher now (for dancers)," Avian added. "The training is better. And like the Olympics, or any sport, each year they break new records. They can last longer, they can jump higher."
What both Avian and Lee were looking for in their 2006 cast was a combination of technique and personality.
"First, we had to find wonderful dancers. That's the number one part of the audition," he said. "Then sometimes you see a special quality in someone who perhaps is not the greatest dancer in the world but they have their own stardust. We tend to keep that person. Then you go from dancing to singing to hearing if they can talk _ what their personalities are."
It was Lee's job to make sure that the show's dancing remained true to the original intentions of Bennett and Avian.
The choreography "is in my head _ every arm (movement), body angle," she said. "I was taught by the master, Michael Bennett _ and Bob."
Lee has directed "A Chorus Line" all over the world. "Bobby didn't want to travel. Michael didn't want to travel. So they sent me out there. What I had to do was go to a country and start a school," she said.
"I have been with it for 31 years and I still love teaching the show. People still get excited (about it) all over the world."


Updated : 2021-04-14 10:48 GMT+08:00