Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?― The Red Shoes
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must.
Vicky: That's my answer too.
I’m going to start today’s post with the happy announcement that I just got engaged to a Nice Jewish Boy and am friggin’ ecstatic.
Ok, now that that’s done with, on to the Broadway love. I’ve seen about 5 or 6 shows in the last 3 weeks, so I’m a little backlogged with Broadway love!
The Players Club of Swarthmore recently closed their wildly successful production of A Chorus Line and I had the honor of sitting in the audience twice for this significant musical piece. I was familiar with the music and knew it was about dancers and their stories, but I had never seen it. I am here to say that even if you’d “never heard about A Chorus Line, never saw A Chorus Line, or didn't give a fuck about A Chorus Line,” you should see A Chorus Line at some point in your life (but not the film version, I hear it sucks) because, as I found out, it touches on material that transcends mere dancing and applies to us all in some form.
First of all, let’s talk about the dancing. From the first “five, six, seven, eight”, we are thrust into a world where dance is EVERYTHING. From the first note when the dancers turn and face the audience for the first time, you can hear the underlying stress and anxiety among the flying arms and legs in the music and choreography. This reflects the characters’ desperation to land this job because it means one more opportunity to dance; they want this with all their heart and soul.
A Chorus Line was originally a workshop created from a series of taped sessions with several dancers, nicknamed “gypsies.” These sessions consisted of the “gypsies” simply talking, disclosing how/why they became dancers and stories of their past. Director/choreographer, Michael Bennett, soon became involved in the workshop and ran with the concept. A Chorus Line is indeed about dancers (and they do a LOT of dancing). But it’s not your standard “a-bunch-of-dancers-put-on-a-show-to-save-the-theatre” fluff. It sheds a glaring light on a group of people who otherwise normally must make it a priority to be the frame, the wallpaper, the stage filler, the background, and the mechanically-functioning human props that showcase the “stars.” It highlights the diverse, colorful personalities of those who throw themselves at an unforgiving, merciless industry, all for just one more opportunity to dance on stage.
The show introduces us to a small handful of hopeful dancers vying for a spot in a Broadway chorus line. They are taken aback and apprehensive when casting director, Zach, asks them to tell him more about themselves than what is already on their resumés. In order to get this job, they must put not just their skills, but themselves on the line. One by one, they begin to divulge and share personal tales of their education, adolescence, home life, sexual experiences, and what inspired them to become dancers.
Cassie, once a featured dancer (and former lover of Zach’s), has returned from a less-than-stellar stint in California to pursue a role in Zach’s chorus. He tells her that she’s too good for the chorus and shouldn't be at this audition. But she doesn’t want stardom. She doesn’t want a career of dead-end movie roles or commercials or to open a studio and teach; she merely wants to dance. She is willing to "come home" to the chorus so she can do what she does best. She puts herself on the line (Zach’s line), pleads with him to give her this job, and dances for her fracking life.
When one dancer suffers a sobering injury during auditions, Zach asks the others what they would do and how they would feel if they couldn’t dance anymore. No one has a solid answer as they grapple with the hard reality that they won’t be able to dance forever. They discuss the hardships of being in show business – aging, injuries, bills, the decline of dance-heavy shows, the lack of jobs and job security – and life after dancing. They each speculate what they would/could do for a living and resolve that no matter what happens, they will do what they love as long as they possibly can.
The finale, "One”, begins with an individual bow for each of the nineteen characters, their hodgepodge rehearsal clothes replaced by identical spangled gold costumes. As each dancer joins the group, it is suddenly difficult to distinguish one form the other. Each character who was an individual to the audience is now an anonymous member of an ensemble. The dancers form the iconic kick-line that continues as the curtain descends. Michael Bennett said, “… I want people in the audience to go to other shows and think about what's really gone into making that chorus . . . It fades with them kicking. That's it. That's the end of the show. There are no bows. I don't believe in bows, just the fade out. That's what a dancer's life is.”
Everyone can find at least one song or character they identify with in A Chorus Line. Be it having a less-than-stellar home life; coming to terms with sexuality; frustration from having to beg, plead, lie, steal, cheat, and fight to pursue your passion; overcoming things out of your control (like being 4’10), and changing the things you can control (like your tits and ass). A Chorus Line has an affecting, universal theme that anyone can relate to. In the Playbill listings, the show was dedicated "to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step . . . anywhere." A Chorus Line reminds us that everyone has a face, a name, and a voice. Everyone is special.