Monday, October 29, 2012

"A Chorus Line": Stories and Struggles of Everyday People

By Kaitlyn Kozinski

Living the life of a dancer is one of the most difficult paths anyone can choose to take. Between the constant rejection and judgement, it is a wonder why anyone is in this business at all. Life is unpredictable; you can be dancing on a Broadway stage one minute and waiting tables the next. So why do people choose this profession and the grueling life that comes with it? The answer is simple, they love it.

The characters in the musical “A Chorus Line” are the epitome of what it is like to be a working dancer. Throughout the course of the show, the audience witnesses the many low points of being a dancer but they also get a chance to see the high points: the passion and love these characters have for performing.

“A Chorus Line” came to be in a very unique way. The inspiration for this show occurred during workshop share sessions that consisting of broadway dancers coming together and talking about their lives. They discussed their personal history such as life growing up, where their love for dance started, and why they dance. These different sessions were taped, written down, and soon music, lyrics, and a book of the new musical “A Chorus Line” was made.

Stories from Dancers' Lives

This show tells the story of 17 dancers going through the audition process, in hopes of being chosen for a spot in the chorus of a Broadway musical. The beauty of this show is that among these 17 dancers, none of them are alike; every character is different. Book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante were able to bring together people of different backgrounds, family lives, cultures, hometowns, and personalities and show that despite their differences, they all share a common passion, dance.

However, this show is about more than dancing; it is about the life of a dancer, specifically these 17 people the audience gets to know for two hours. The characters delve deep into their personal lives and every audience member gets to connect with them and their struggles.

When the show opened on Broadway in 1975, it was rather controversial. Director Michael Bennett broke the standard Broadway musical mold of flashy costumes and big lavish sets and dared to try something new. There was no set, no curtain, no costume changes; just the dancers, the script, and the music. That is all it needed. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book is powerful enough to stand on its own. The same can be said for the score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban. Having big gaudy sets and costumes would drown out the meaning of the songs and the audience would miss vital information about a character’s life.

This vision of Michael Bennett’s must have been a very smart one because in 1975, the book, score, choreography, and direction all won Tonys, as well as the musical itself. Having a strong book and score is what makes a musical live on and become a classic.

Original Character Returns as Director

That is why today, “A Chorus Line” is still a huge hit. Productions have been performed all over the world and some even in our own back yard. Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey recently featured performances of their own production of “A Chorus Line.” This production is particularly special because it is directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton, a dancer who was part of the original taped workshop sessions and served as inspiration for one of the main characters.

Due to the fact that this production was directed by someone so close to the original concept, there was a great sense of authenticity. While watching it, I felt like I was being transported back to the original 1975 version. Every character was perfectly played and the guidance and expertise of Mitzi showed within this production. Having someone who knows the show inside and out was the perfect choice to direct and keep the legacy of this show going.

“A Chorus Line” will always be part of musical theater history. It is as relevant today as it was 37 years ago and that is because of its universal message: that every person has the chance to go after their dream and do what they love, no matter how long it may take to get there and how hard the process may be. Everyone can relate to this show, not just dancers. “A Chorus Line” tells the story of 17 dancers but shows the struggles of everyday people.

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