On May 21, 1975, a spectacular new Broadway musical opened. The musical was unique because it told the stories of the dancers in the show rather than letting the audience just watch the dancers perform. A Chorus Line, a musical by Michael Bennett, was very popular when it made its day view and continues to be shown today to marvel its audience.
Michael Bennetts inspiration for the idea to put together A Chorus Line came mostly out of frustration of the society he lived in the 1970s. In Bennetts eyes the Watergate conflict brought out the falsehood and deceit in America. Bennett wanted to see the truth on stage and to say something positive about his country, which at the time was suffering a severe questioning of its values.
Growing up, Bennett loved to go and watch Broadway shows. He had noticed that the quality of the shows had gone down due to economic changes in America. Bennetts real love was to dance on stage. Along with many other dancing hopefuls, he felt the frustration of a dancer trying to succeed. Bennett understood that through a whole dancers life maximum effort in his or her dancing career had to put forth. He also knew that the no one had been affected more than the dancers of Broadway by the economic changes. Bennett thought that the general public viewing Broadway shows had a distorted perception of the dancers on stage. The audience most commonly looked at the dancers as the background of the musical and thought they were unqualified for bigger roles in the production. Bennett quoted, Dancers kill themselves in a show, they are always the low man on the totem pole. They work like dogs and they dont get any real credit. I want to do a show where the dancers are the stars. Bennett wanted to create a show to pay tribute to the dancers on stage. Mandelbaum
The making of A Chorus Line seemed simple to the public eye, but in reality it was a long process with a lot of work involved. In the beginning, Michael had a simple idea that his show would begin in a rehearsal room with one dancer at the dance bar, then another would join, and the scene would show the feelings between the dancers. He wanted to convey what each dancer was feeling without having them directly tell the audience verbally. Bennett invited all types of dancers to come to talk about their experiences through dancing. He wanted the biggest cross-section of dancers possible so he could find a common experience that all dancers had experienced. On January 18, 1974 Bennett and eighteen dancers gathered at The Nicolas Exercise center on East Twenty Third Street in Manhattan. Michael first had the dancers take part in a brief dance class, and then told them to open up with their feelings of dancing. The dancers were asked their names, stage names if different, and place and date of birth. Michael also asked the dancers to tell about their childhood and how they came about dancing. Many of the dancers reviled they had grown up in homes with alcoholism, isolation, or loneliness. All the dancers also expressed to Michael how dancing had changed their lives, giving them a sense of belonging.
Bennett asked one of the dancers he had met through his session, Nicholas Dante, to help him start writing the musical. Dante actually has a character taken after him in the final production of A Chorus Line. The character, Paul, tells about his experiences growing up as a sexual misfit and working as a drag queen in his teen years. Dante, Bennett and a few other writers began putting together stories from the dancers they had talked to. Bennett then took a shocking step. He decided he wanted to cast A Chorus Line and put it into rehearsal before it was written. Bennett teamed up with Joseph Papp, who gave Bennett time in his public theater for the making of his musical.
By the time Michael Bennett had started making A Chorus Line, he had already made sixteen Broadway shows. Bennett hired Marvin Hamlisch to compose the music for A Chorus Line. Hamlisch had won four Grammy Awards. Bennett chose Ed Kleban as the lyrists for the production. Later on, Michael would hire James Kirkwood to collaborate with Nicolas Dante to write the musical.
With the crew of the musical all set, Michael now had the task of hiring the cast. The people who came out to take part in this unique musical had a background in dancing and were willing to work for one hundred dollars a week, which was a fair amount considering the economic downfall of the time in the profession of dancing. Michael hired sixteen cast members to take part in the project.
Through the making of A Chorus Line, Michael wanted to get real reactions out of the dancers. One day, he was leading the dancers through a tap routine and just fell to the floor pretending that he was in pain. He went on with the act telling the dancers to call a doctor until he got a good real reaction to a situation like that. Michaels musical was now forming.
The musical would start out with several dancers trying out for a dancing part in a musical. Some of the dancers were then cut and Michael put in a character, Zach, who was to be the director of the musical who chose sixteen people out of the whole group of dancers auditioning. These dancers were told by Zach to talk to about their dancing experiences, as well as their experiences growing up. From these people he would chose four boys and four girls for the final cuts. Every character in the musical had a different story, such as Paul's story of growing up gay, taken after the real story of Dante. Another important character to the musical came to be a girl named Cassie. This characters part in the show was to be Zachs mirror.Mandelbaum
Several musical numbers were developing such as I hope I get it, The Music and the mirror, and One. All these musical numbers reflected the dancers anxieties about getting the role in the musical or their experiences of growing up. The show was put on without an intermission so as to place the audience in a real dance audition to make it feel what the dancers on stage are feeling. An important part in the musical that in which one of the dancers trying out for the musical falls on the stage and injures himself. This brings worried looks to the dancers auditioning, and Zach asks them the question, What is there after you cant dance? This is an important part in the musical, which brings out the feeling of the importance of dancing to the dancers on stage.
When the show opened on Broadway in 1975, it turned immediately into big hit because it was so different from most Broadway shows. If someone is to watch Michael Bennetts A Chorus Line the hope is that they really feel as if they are a dancer.