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29 NOV 2006

     

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A CHORUS LINE
A Brief History...from New York's Broadway to Seattle's

"A CHORUS LINE" LOGO

"A CHORUS LINE" ORIGINAL LINE LOGO

ZACH: "Okay, I'm eliminating down. When I call out your number, please form a line."
The opening group audition scene
from ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

Few musicals have captured the heart of the theatre world and the theatre-loving public as A Chorus Line. During its 15 years on Broadway (a record recently only surpassed by Cats), A Chorus Line enchanted nearly seven million theatre-goers, and won nearly every possible award imaginable including 9 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 5 Drama Desk Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, the London Evening Standard Award, a special citation Obie Award, and even a Gold Record Award from Columbia Records. It has been produced professionally in over twenty other countries around the world including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Translated into many other languages, the show continues to be one of the most popular theatre productions around the globe.

ALL: Aaahhhhhhhh!!!"
A moment from the montage
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

A Chorus Line also revolutionized the ways musicals could be presented, not only stylistically but technically as well. The show broke out of the usual rigid story line and wove together the stories of its ensemble cast of "gypsy" dancers with show-stopping choreography, and a musical score ranging from sensational solos to a glittering, golden finale that brought audiences to their feet night after night with cheering ovations. The original production was also the first show on Broadway to use computers in the control booth, as well as the first to provide a sign-interpreted performance.

VAL: "Tits and ass won't get you jobs unless they're yours!"
Audrey Fan performing as Val in
ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

Prior to the first performance of A Chorus Line at the Public Theater the original company collectively had appeared in 72 Broadway shows, 17 national companies and 9 bus and truck tours in which they gave a total of 37,095 performances. Collectively they had 612 years of dance training with 748 teachers - counting duplications. They spent approximately $894 a month on dance lessons. While performing they sustained 30 back, 26 knee and 36 ankle injuries.

SHEILA: "Well let's face it. My family scene was not good."
Susan Hayes playing Sheila
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

Perhaps the magic of A Chorus Line comes from its creation by the same people whose dreams and struggles are at the heart and nature of show business itself. A Chorus Line began in the living room of the late Michael Bennett's apartment, among a small circle of friends, mostly dancers suffering the endless auditions and almost constant rejection that is part of success on Broadway. These were not the stars and luminaries of the theatre world, but the mostly faceless unknown youngsters who smile and persevere in the chorus.

ALL: "Go to it. Go to it. Go to it."
Christopher Anderson as Richie
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

Bennett directed and choreographed their stories on the stage with a ferocious power that engraved a new watermark on the history of theatre and forged an indelible bond with audiences. As Donna McKechnie, who first originated the role of "Cassie" said, "It's about dreams. Everybody has dreams. We're all in the chorus."

A Chorus Line opened May 21, 1975 at the 299 seat Newman Theater in the Public Theater complex, under the auspices of the New York Shakespeare Festival and Producer Joseph Papp who had helped Bennett work out its unconventional presentation format. It was a beginning that would eventually enrich the Shakespeare Festival's coffers by an estimated $38 million, enabling it to support a variety of other productions and to present free Shakespeare in New York's Central Park. Papp was quoted as saying, "Without it, we probably wouldn't be around and certainly wouldn't have been able to expand our programs."

ALL: "One smile and suddenly nobody else will do..."
A moment form the finale of
ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

A Chorus Line was an instant box office smash. On July 25, 1975, it moved to the 1,472 seat Shubert Theatre, where it remained until its closing on April 28, 1990 playing for 6,137 performances. The cost of transfering A Chorus Line from the Public to the Shubert was $250,000, underwritten by NYSF Board Chairman LuEsther Mertz. It is estimated that a similar move today would cost well over $8 million.

JUDY: "What are you, ashamed of your own mother?"
Gina Turner playing Judy in
ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

During its years on Broadway, A Chorus Line celebrated a long string of triumphs and made theatrical stars out of the original 27 cast members and celebrities from the small army of the 483 replacements who followed them. The show's total New York box office gross was well over $149 million. Having already surpassed Hello Dolly! and Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line reached yet another milestone on September 29, 1983, celebrating its record-breaking 3,389th performance by surpassing Grease to be Broadway's longest running musical to date at that time. This special performance featured past cast members rejoining their current counterparts on stage, including a parade down the aisles in the gold-sequined costumes they all wore for the show's finale. It was one of the most magical theatrical moments in Broadway's history.

PAUL: "See, when I quit school, what I was doing was trying to find out who I was and how to be a man."
Jose Abaoag as Paul
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

A very different emotion filled the Shubert Theatre on the night that marked the end of A Chorus Line on Broadway. Tears choked many of the cast's final performances and an even more emotional audience interrupted with applause, cheers and their own expressions of remorse. At the show's conclusion, Joseph Papp walked on stage and introduced the members of the final Broadway cast and then called on stage, one by one, many of the original cast members. He also included the names of Edward Kleban (the show's lyricist who died of cancer in 1987) and James Kirkwood (one of the show's co-authors who died of cancer in 1989). When he called the name of Michael Bennett, who died of AIDS in July of 1987, a giant photograph of the "Star-Director-Choreographer" was lowered on stage. Finally, Papp turned and asked the cast to take their final bows.

CASSIE: "All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror, and the chance to dance for you."
Crystal Dawn Munkers as Cassie
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

ReAct's production of A Chorus Line began rehearsals in Seattle on June 5, 1998. Rehearsals were held both at the gymnasium at Pilgrim Church and the auditorium of the Nippon Kan Theatre. Many in the cast of 31 had very little prior dance experience. ReAct cast members were fortunate in getting the opportunity to spend a couple of rehearsal sessions with Roxane Carrasco and Frank Kliegel, two performers who danced for years in some of the national and international companies. These two guest artists helped fine-tune some of the dance steps. As Frank helped teach everyone the tap combination, Roxane passed on the legacy of "Cassie" to Crystal Dawn Munkers by showing her McKechnie's original choreography created by Michael Bennett.

ALL: "I've got get this show!"
The principal cast members in a scene
from ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

ReAct's second brush with A Chorus Line history came about a week before opening, during a publicity photo shoot, with the brief use of the actual finale costumes used in the 1985 movie version of the musical (which premiered on December 9, 1985 starring Michael Douglas and Audrey Landers). Unfortunately, these spectacular costumes were not used during the run as they didn't quite fit all the cast members and were not easy to put on. Another set of "golds" had to be found and rented at the last minute!

MAGGIE, SHEILA, BEBE: "Yes, ev'rything was beautiful at the ballet. Hey!"
Summer Rain Menkee, Susan
Hayes, Laurie Records and the
ensemble perform "At the Ballet"
in ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

ReAct's presentation of A Chorus Line first opened on Friday, August 7, 1998, playing for a scheduled thirteen performances at the 295 seat Broadway Performance Hall. Although it was not actually the first production to ever play on "Seattle's Broadway," it was the first that used almost all of the original choreography, lighting effects, costuming effects and staging. With the addition of "enhanced multi-ethnic casting" and some other staging improvements as well, ReAct's production has created its own special place in A Chorus Line history.

ALL: "One thrilling combination..."
The cast in the finale of
ReAct's A Chorus Line.
Photo: David Hsieh.

A handful of the "original cast members" of ReAct's A Chorus Line returned to Seattle's Broadway Performance Hall to reprise their roles (and take on new ones) in ReAct's encore engagement of "The best musical. Ever." They were joined by a wave of new cast members who auditioned to join the cast, much like the way castmembers changed overtime during the show's original record-setting Broadway run. This encore engagement played for a limited 26 performances from September 9th through October 10th, 1999, becoming the final production of A Chorus Line in the Pacific Northwest during the 20th Century.
—Written August 1998 and revised October 1999.


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