07 December 2014

“A Chorus Line” and Me

There was a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s that I ate, lived and breathed “A Chorus Line” -- Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning musical from 1975. I can’t even tell you what about it drew me in. When it opened on Broadway, I was an impressionable 15-year-old boy who had been active in grade-school and high-school theater for years. I loved being part of the world of theater: I loved singing, I loved dancing and I loved acting.

And then came “A Chorus Line.”

Everyone knows the story: an audition for dancers for a new musical, the appearance of a once-great dancer who had fallen on hard times and needed a job, and the director who was once in love with the dancer who had the power to give her a new life. It’s so simple and yet, at the same time, incorporated every hope, dream and disappointment ever felt by anyone who ever wanted to achieve anything.

The characters in the show were all me, one facet or another of the young boy in Phoenix who wanted nothing more than to perform on a stage. I had parents who didn’t understand it, friends who made fun of it, and a fantasy world where it all became real.

I watched excerpts from the show on the Tony Award telecast in 1976. I bought the record and sang and danced to it “around the living room” every chance I got. I sang songs from the show at auditions. Everyone around me got sick hearing about “A Chorus Line” and I don’t blame them. I talked my chorus director into letting me do a solo of “The Music and the Mirror” at one of our shows; and my theater director in high school gave me the final song at a variety show. I stood on stage and sang “What I Did for Love” like I was on the stage at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway.

Then, after months of begging, my parents took me to Los Angeles to see the Broadway cast at the Shubert Theater at Century City. The anticipation virtually made me sick. We drove to California. We arrived at the theater only to discover that some of the original cast had just left the show -- including Tony Award-winning star, Donna McKechnie, who left to marry Bennett. I was crestfallen; but the show was still phenomenal.

I dropped out of college after a few years, determined to go to California and make good on my theater dream. Instead of heading right to the Great White Way in New York, my plan was this: go to San Francisco and make a big noise in theater there. Then head down to Los Angeles and became someone. THEN head to New York with one foot on the stage, ready to conquer the theater world with an audience ready to embrace me.

Quite quickly reality crept in. I was in San Francisco only a little while when I saw the kind of talent I was up against. Wow! I was nowhere near their level. My lifelong, dearly cherished dream died a quick and painful death.

On one return visit to my home in Phoenix, I happened upon a small antique store. I was chatting with the owner and kept thinking he looked really familiar. Turned out it was Cameron Mason who played Mark in the original company. We chatted briefly about the show, but I got the impression he didn’t want to talk about it.

My life’s ambition turned to writing shortly after that. I found in writing the successes I was never to find in theater. I got a couple newspaper columns and began reviewing theater. I found it to be nearly as rewarding as performing.

Through all these years “A Chorus Line” has remained an integral part of my life. I saw the show performed six times, including finally getting to see McKechnie in 1989. I interviewed her twice and got to meet her backstage after one performance.

“A Chorus Line” eventually closed on Broadway, but not before becoming the longest-running show in history.

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