It was the '70s. Gerald Ford was President, disco was happening, society was doing drugs and exploring their sexuality (sometimes on the same night). Theatre was discovering itself as well, or rediscovering itself, pushing new boundaries on Broadway and beyond.
James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante wrote a book that would become a play for which Edward Kieban would write lyrics and the great Marvin Hamlish would compose the music. The play would end up receiving 12 Tony Award nominations, winning nine and a 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In it's time its 6,137 performances would set a record and be the longest running production. It would be revived for generations to come and prove universal in theme. That play is still running, opening June 1, 2010 at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles (where I believe I first saw it in 1976 at 14 years old) and still making people do high kicks as they leave the theatre. The play, of course, is A Chorus Line and it is proving it is still one singular sensation.
Universal themes make great books, plays and movies. Think how many times Romeo and Juliet has been remade, from Harold and Maude to Thelma and Louise. A Chorus Line shows that some things never change, and many things do.
The story is as simple as the staging: seventeen dance hopefuls auditioning for a task master producer, each needing and hoping for a job in the chorus. There's no intermission, the audience must endure the audition as well. And as each of the hopefuls step forward and tell their tale through song and dance one can't help but notice that the chorus line looks like America today; a snapshot of what is going on in the country as we speak. It's not just about entertainers or dancers any more, the game has changed, and suddenly, we're all on that line.
Think of one of the show's main character, Cassie (Rebecca Riker). She's a seasoned pro, with almost two decades experience. She's a show stopper, a star, not a chorus girl, and the producer, Zach (Derek Hanson) can't for the life of him understand why she'd be auditioning for basically an entry level position.
"Because I need a job, Zach, I need to work," Cassie exclaims before breaking in to the iconic number "Music And The Mirror."
Her pleading speech hit home today. How many people with 20 years experience in their fields, stars, top earners, providers, show stoppers are now out there, competing in a job market, trying for entry level positions in their fields just to stay in them? How many people in today's economy just want to work, no matter how, no matter where. They don't want a handout, they don't want to wait for the Senate to extend their benefits, they want a job. And how many employers see the older candidate, the candidate with 10 or 20 years experience as a liability, as someone that won't be a team player, as someone who will treat the job as beneath them? Cassie isn't the only one that needs a second chance. 12.5% of America is looking for a second chance, for a chance to dance for you.
Or as Sheila (Ashley Yeater) approaches 30 and realizes opening up a dance studio may not be giving up but growing up; facing new realities, going down unexpected avenues.
The Zach character throws a loop to everyone by asking them what would they do if they couldn't dance after young Greg (Andrew Hodge) injures his knee and is taken off to the hospital. How many Americans have had to ask themselves what do I do now that I can't do THAT any longer? So many people were tied to their jobs, their whole lives and livelihoods, and over the last two years they've had that rug pulled out from under them. Who are they, we, now? In 2008 the dance was over. Wall Street crashed, our economy went bust, our nation tried to reinvent by electing a totally new candidate. But it, and its political parties, are searching for their soul, for their base, for their identities. Who are they now, now that they can't dance?
To hear the 35 year old dialogue about how Broadway is shrinking, shows are going away, there's no security in the entertainment industry the conversation is as germane today as then except now it applies to all industries. Entertainment used to be seen as risky, don't quit your day job. Now, the day jobs are as insecure as the entertainment industry, and just as scarce.
And the irony of the lyrics of "Dance Ten, Looks Three" about having cosmetic surgery to get ahead being sung to a crowded theatre of celebrities in Hollywood was hysterical. We live in a generation where growing numbers of teenagers are having work done for the prom so they "have it all done, honey take my word..." lyrics were prophetic at the time.
This touring cast of A Chorus Line certainly has the energy and spirit of their predecessors, given that most were not even born when the play was a sensation. And how must that be for these dancers, in this chorus line? What must it be like to be a 24 year old dancer touring with the most iconic Broadway dance show of our era?
The same as for the characters. The show will end, they'll each go on to more and one day each of them will be faced with the question of what do I do when I can no longer tour with Broadway shows.
They'll join the lines of Americans each singing "God I hope I get it, I hope I get it, how many people do they need..." As that song was sung with "Oh God I need this job!" I couldn't help but picture job fares across the country, 200 opening and 10,000 people showing up, each of them inside singing, "God I hope I get it, I hope I get it..."
We're all in that line now, our pictures and resumés digitally representing us to that booming voice in the dark looking us over to see if we measure up to the near impossible standards to get that shot, that shot that we so need to keep the dream alive, or to just pay our rent.
See A Chorus Line if you can on it's U.S. tour and remind yourself that dreams don't really change, that everyone has their own baggage but each one wants the same thing, a chance, a shot. BroadwayLA.com
Follow Charles Karel Bouley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealkarel