Flashback Friday: ‘A Chorus Line’ remains a ‘singular sensation’

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A musical that is truly “one singular sensation” does not come around very often. But in 1975, A Chorus Line opened on Broadway and became a sensation unlike anything that had been seen before.

A groundbreaking musical, A Chorus Line follows seventeen dancers through a grueling audition that tests not only their ability to dance but also their dedication to the art and the importance of dance in their lives. The result are funny, touching, and heartbreaking personal stories that are based on the recordings director and choreographer Michael Bennett collected from numerous interviews with professional dancers, which makes the stories even more compelling.

With Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s timeless music and Bennett’s classic choreography, A Chorus Line became an instant hit with audiences and critics alike. The show won nine Tony Awards in 1976, including Best Musical. After 6,137 performances, A Chorus Line closed in April 1990 and became the longest running show in Broadway history.

The incredible success of the original Broadway production inspired many other incarnations of the show. The original West End production ran for several years and won the first Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1976; however, succeeding productions did not fare as well. The 1985 film flopped and received harsh critiques from fans of the musical, and even members of the original Broadway cast. A 2006 Broadway revival ran for nearly two years, but it failed to generate the same buzz that the original production did. A West End revival of A Chorus Line recently opened in London on February 19 of this year and is set to run until June 29.

For such a momentous show, this one-act musical is somewhat simplistic. The seventeen auditioning dancers are lined up across the stage for the majority of the performance, and each dancer takes turns stepping into the spotlight to share their stories of why dancing means so much to them. Of course, the choreography is complex, and adds a great amount of depth to each anecdote, but there are hardly any props or sets for the performers to hide behind. Up until “One,” the musical’s memorable and elaborate finale, it is solely up to the actors to bring out their character’s tales through dialogue, song, and dance without much extra help. This honesty and sincerity, when done well, helps audiences connect with the show in ways that most musicals can’t.

Though it no longer holds the title of longest running show on Broadway, and its recent professional productions have proved unsuccessful, A Chorus Line has inspired generations of dancers to continue to work for the craft that they love, and it will always have a special place in musical theatre history.

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