Give Me Somebody to Dance With
December 15, 2018 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Nine Tonys and a Pulitzer came out of discussions by 25 dancers in a living room in New York City about their lives and histories. Marvin Hamlisch (previously) was the composer, book by James Kirkwood Jr and Nicholas Dante, lyrics by Edward Kleban. A Chorus Line opened in 1976 (warning, poor video quality, decent audio) and closed after 6,137 performances - at that time, the longest ever Broadway run.

Director and co-choreographer Michael Bennett died in 1987 of AIDS-related lymphoma. He is quasi-portrayed in And the Band Played On by Richard Gere.

A Chorus Line original cast reunion on Donahue in 1990, as the show was about to close 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (with part of Bennett's Tony acceptance speech), 6, 7

They made a was OK. And an Internet favourite: the audition dance, in costume.
posted by wellred (31 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you like A Chorus Line or musical theater at all Every Little Step is a must-see. Great post.
posted by colorblock sock at 4:14 PM on December 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Saw a touring company quite early, probably a very good cast. Was pretty young, maybe 11 or 12. My dad took me. There were awkward moments. #adultcontent

It was still pretty astonishing overall. I have clear memories of watching that, and that's rare for me at that age.
posted by hippybear at 5:00 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh the look behind the eyes at the start of that reunion, they all knew each other and the song way deeper than memory, into their dna, some just basic essence of what they were as persons, as performers.
posted by sammyo at 5:27 PM on December 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

The video from the 3,389th performance in 1983, featuring hundreds of cast members from over the years to perform the finale, is glorious. 13 rows of dancers all bowing in sequence at the end of the song. The story is that the stage required special reinforcement to accommodate everyone.
posted by zachlipton at 5:34 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

I just realized that Marvin Hamlisch was the Lin-Manuel Miranda of late 70s/early 80s childhoods. I remember him playing the piano on kids shows (maybe Captain Kangaroo?) when I was a kid.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:38 PM on December 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

Saw a touring company quite early, probably a very good cast. Was pretty young, maybe 11 or 12. My dad took me. There were awkward moments.

My mom took me to see the movie adaptation when I was 8. Which was about a year after she took me to see a touring production of Evita. And the movie Amadeus. And two years after she took me to see Staying Alive, which was a crime against my childhood as much as that movie is a crime against film making.

Anyway. Hooray for inappropriate parents?

(I don't remember much about the movie, but apparently I was really fond of the song Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.)
posted by elsietheeel at 5:43 PM on December 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Kelly Bishop, the original Sheila, plays Baby's mom in Dirty Dancing, and at the end when Baby dances on stage in front of everyone, she goes to her husband (Jerry Orbach!), "I think she gets this from me." So perfect.

I assistant stage managed a production of Chorus Line in college. We probably shouldn't have gone there, but even a medium-OK production has magic.
posted by wellred at 5:52 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

behold one of the major influencers on my life path
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:03 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I performed in a production of this at FSU in the 80s. I was one of the auditioners who doesnt make it (who then spend the rest of the production singing on a backstage mike to help supplement the singing from the onstage actors.)
posted by wittgenstein at 6:25 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine was in a production that rented the original Broadway costumes, with the cast's name labels still sewn in.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:37 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

The cast of Hamilton paid tribute on A Chorus Line's 40th anniversary

While I'd seen this before, watching it now just made me notice: the solos are very specifically all sung by the ensemble, with the show's stars looking on with wonderfully supportive smiles. Which is perfectly fitting for what A Chorus Line is.

There's also a tiny musical Hamilton reference tucked into the keyboard part at 3:11.
posted by zachlipton at 7:06 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, I just realized that Priscilla Lopez was the jazz teacher at Definitely Not Steps on Broadway in Center Stage!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:24 PM on December 15, 2018

I just realized that Marvin Hamlisch was the Lin-Manuel Miranda of late 70s/early 80s childhoods.

Very few artists have had the kind of streak that Hamlisch had in the mid-70s. At the 1974 Academy Awards, he won three times: twice for "The Way We Were" (the score and the title song, which was Billboard's number one song of the year), and for the score of "The Sting," lovingly reviving the music of the neglected genius Scott Joplin.

Barely a year later was A Chorus Line, for which he received not just a Tony but a Pulitzer. (The only other person with EGOT+Pulitzer status is Richard Rogers.) Somewhere in there he also wrote the theme song for Good Morning America. I was a high school kid in the sleepy southwestern suburbs of Cleveland, and it seemed like everyone knew who Marvin Hamlisch was.
posted by How the runs scored at 8:29 PM on December 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

For birthdays my mom took us to broadway shows of our choice. I saw Chorus Line on Broadway in 79, and again in 83. When the mirrors turn around i vividly remember being startled by the beauty of that moment. All the dancers doing their amazing thing when all of a sudden the STAGE bumps up the action. Incredible.
posted by asavage at 9:30 PM on December 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Donahue discussion touches on the cast's measly share in the gross revenues of the franchise. This was normal daytime network television and now it feels like it's broadcasting from an alternate universe.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:13 AM on December 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Priscilla Lopez is amazing. I saw her in “A Day in Hollywood, A Nght in the Ukraine” in 1980, which got her her second Tony (the first was for being Morales in A Chorus Line). She stopped the show with a song in the first revue half, also danced better than anyone, and in the second Marx Brothers half she played the Harpo part, was a genius at physical comedy.
posted by w0mbat at 4:18 AM on December 16, 2018

So my university did a production of Chorus Line in 2005 which is my go to worst production of all time story. The theater and dance departments didn't get along at all but neither had any business doing a show about dancers. When they announced the show they said they were casting for acting, singing, and dancing, in that order. At least 4 of the cast, including my now wife, were pretty fat, not fat for dancers just straight up fat. The costume designer put everyone in horizontal stripes. This was northern Idaho so the pool to cast from wasn't very diverse, the 1 black guy in the department was cast as a white character. The white guy who rapped was cast as the black character. My German-Irish wife was cast as the Puertorican character. You could tell by the giant crucifix she had to wear. Cassie was a triple threat, in that she couldn't sing, act or dance so they had another actor come out in mirror image costume and stand in a spotlight to sing The Music and the Mirror. They did cast one person from the dance department as one of the people cut in the opening number, but she was the only actual dancer in the cast so even when they put her in the back row your eye was still drawn right to her, so they had her do the choreography backwards. The director lost her mind during the rehearsal process. Rehearsals were canceled for 3 days because her cat died. The program noted that the show was was dedicated to her cat and a student who died that semester in a motorcycle accident- in that order. At one point during tech the director screamed "I'M NOT CRAZY" from the middle of the house.
I think there might still be video somewhere.
posted by Uncle at 6:39 AM on December 16, 2018 [17 favorites]


PEGOT, surely!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:34 AM on December 16, 2018

Uncle, I will pay you *cash money* for that video.
posted by holborne at 8:41 AM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Robbie Fairchild did an excellent rendition of "The Music and the Mirror" for MisCast earlier this year.
posted by Stacey at 5:25 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

A lot of my Broadway experience is thanks to the piano teacher I had when I was in Jr. High - this awesome lady who was a great piano teacher, but indulgent in my choice of music to work on (she didn't insist on classical, and let me get away with doing a lot of show tunes and Billy Joel because she was a fan too). She would come to our house for lessons, and sometimes we'd just sit there yakking about stuff and she'd rope my mother in too.

At some point she was talking about something, and tried to compare it to "It's like that scene in A Chorus Line, when Cassie says...."

"...I haven't seen that show," I admitted.

She stopped dead. "You haven't seen A Chorus Line?" she gasped. Then turned to my mother, who was in the kitchen - "Your child has never seen A Chorus Line???" Then she immediately turned back to me. "Okay. I'll get us a Sunday matinee, you can come crash at my apartment on the Saturday night before so we can get going early, and we'll be back in time for Sunday night - I'll do it for a 3-day weekend so you have the extra day off...the tickets are on me," she added, turning to my mother.

In short, she could not abide the fact that I hadn't seen this show and personally insisted on doing something about it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 AM on December 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

I've always been fascinated that at least among theater people I know, the movie version of the show is almost universally reviled.

I'm ok with it.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:50 AM on December 17, 2018

Dr Astro: I didn't mind the movie that much. But I think that one thing that the movie did that may cause distaste came at the end, and even Roger Ebert called them out for this during his review:
[the end is] a big and splashy finale, in which all of the dancers who originally auditioned are back on stage, together once again. That leads to my one major difference with Attenborough's approach.

Since "A Chorus Line" is a musical about itself, and since the whole hard, bitter, romantic truth of the story is that many are called but few are chosen, the roll call at the end strikes a false note of triumph. [...] I think the message of the play is that you don't get called back for a grand finale; you simply go to another audition.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing that bothers me about the movie is that the intimacy of the show is lost when you can see New York and the rehearsal hall and backstage.

I wasn't a fan of the Michael Douglas choice, either, but that's a lesser thing.
posted by wellred at 9:48 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid we used to come down to NJ from upstate NY to visit my maternal grandmother, and my father would do anything to get out of the house. One wintery day in the early 80s, he took me into NYC for the day - we went to see Patience and Fortitude at the NYPL, walked near Central Park, were offered drugs, bought a plaid scarf from a street vendor, and then saw A Chorus Line on Broadway.

It remains one of the best days of my life.
posted by lyssabee at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is it an apocryphal story or true that lyricist Ed Kleban, making plans for his own memorial, said they'd better not perform "What I Did For Love," as he'd grown to hate it so.

"A Chorus Line" was probably my "Rent," my "Hamilton." By the time the touring show hit my town, I already had the LP memorized.

(I went with my mother, who wasn't even supposed to be in crowds due to cancer-treatment compromised immunity, but she had the theater bug too.)

I remember where I was when I read about Michael Bennet's death. I saw that Donahue show, and perhaps still have the VHS tape.

Just the other night I was at the good community theatre in Royal Oak, MI. RO is the hometown of OBC Cassie, Donna McKechnie. This same theatre also did a production of ACL in the 90s in which a teenage Sutton Foster played Maggie.

Oh, and gawd, that Robbie Fairchild performance linked above is cool. How fascinating to see that choreo on (or through) a man's body, instead of a woman in the iconic red dress. (All Cassies wear red, right? Well, maybe not in Uncle's hilarious production.)
posted by NorthernLite at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2018

The movie is pretty bad, capped off by the finale where the dancer in the second row from the front, third from the right, falls down.
posted by dnash at 2:21 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a great documentary about the original cast and the casting process for the 2008 revival called Every Little Step. I really enjoyed it.
edit: reading comprehension fail, completely missed this was the first comment.
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:44 PM on December 17, 2018

The movie is pretty bad, capped off by the finale where the dancer in the second row from the front, third from the right, falls down.

How have I never seen this?
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:21 AM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

...OBC Cassie, Donna McKechnie.

I would have loved to see her in it! She was also on the original Dark Shadows TV series.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2018

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