A Chorus Line was the first Pulitzer-winning musical developed in the non-profit world. It opened at the Public Theater on April 15, 1975, and almost immediately transferred to the Shubert Theatre. Broadway was a mess back then. Many theaters were dark, Times Square was run down, full of hustlers and homeless, and many were afraid to go there. New York itself was hurtling into bankruptcy. The year before A Chorus Line opened, Broadway attendance dipped to an all-time low. Many had declared Broadway dead. A Chorus Line almost singlehandedly lit the flame that revitalized Broadway – the rave reviews and the sold-out houses gave hope to a city that was locked in despair. New York had something fabulous to hold it up. The most successful musical in history rescued both Broadway, and perhaps New York City itself.
A Chorus Line was a revolution, not just revitalizing New York but forever changing musical theatre. It was something never before seen on Broadway, an ensemble show with little scenery, no costumes (except for the finale), no intermission, and no stars!
Following an era of lush, extravagantly produced shows, A Chorus Line was the opposite. Called the “original reality show” by original cast member Baayork Lee, A Chorus Line is half dazzling dance and song and half docudrama. Based on dozens of actual interviews between Michael Bennett, the director, and veteran actor/singer/dancers, A Chorus Line is a kind a theatre verité. We even get to watch an audition with twenty-six dancers, and see which are selected, not once but twice!
So why now? Why after almost fifty years is A Chorus Line still relevant? So many of the issues that were rising into our public consciousness in the early seventies still resonate today. We are still a work in progress on the struggles of people of color to make it in the arts, to have their unique communities recognized. We still struggle to accept our bodies for what they are, rather than what our cover girl culture promotes. And having respect for women as artists is still something we have a long way to go with. But resonating even more with us in this divisive, polarized world where humans are splintered into thousands of camps, each clamoring for the microphone, A Chorus Line rises gloriously about the babble of human differences. It demonstrates how we can come together. It shows us clearly that we can do more as a community, that belonging to a great enterprise can be as rewarding – or more so – than individual recognition. Whether we can learn to work together, now more than ever, will determine the salvation or the failure of humankind.
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