MAKE THIS HAPPEN: A Chorus Line
Once upon a time, in that glittering industry supposedly safe from the pitches and valleys of the real world, circumstances took a turn for the depressing. A general hopelessness pervaded the atmosphere, nobody had two cents to rub together, and folks scrambled for whatever they could get in terms of employment. It was terrible. But at least the 70s didn’t have Transformers 4. I will go ahead and take my extremely deserved blows for that cheap joke momentarily, but first let us dip once more into my burning and pervasive(and possibly contagious, I really need to have it looked at) love of musicals.
The year is 1975, half a decade before the world of American musical theater would become best known for the rise of the mega musical – a genre defined by the elaborate set pieces, lights, and costumes (Les Miserables and pretty much everything Andrew Lloyd Webber has ever been responsible for, and Cats in particular); and big, bombastic, often pop-sensibility-shaded scores. The show is a raw little thing carved from the lives of the period’s struggling actors and dancers: A Chorus Line. It also had a pop-music infused soundtrack, but at least we have the option of awarding it the ‘appropriately time-piece flavored’ award.
Now, the narrative of A Chorus Line is a tricky thing, in that it is-and-isn’t a frame. We find ourselves in an empty theater with a bunch of dancers auditioning for a role in a major show. Not as leads, mind you, but as the faceless backup dancers there to make the stars look good. And even for a role that the average onlooker might not term appropriately glamorous, they are desperate for it. In an unusual move (that frankly is…sort of baffling, but let’s chalk it up to a character quirk that keeps the plot rolling) the casting director asks each of the prospective hires (who are quite commonly referenced only by number in real world casting situations) to talk about themselves – not to perform, but simply to be honest.
Most of the show is a series of vignettes, the loose structure paradoxically ratcheting up audience tension as we realize that not everyone we’re growing to like will be walking out with a job. More dire still, for many it is their last shot. As Shelly Long put it, they’re trying to get one more job before they can’t dance any more. There’s also a subplot about the casting director’s botched romance with the leading lady, but it is by far the most disposable bit.
It was an immensely popular show, helped by the fact that the director (who is commonly pretty hands-off once a show opens) would come in every few months to rework aspects of the show and keep it fresh and exciting – as well as the fact that the show’s script was formed from hundreds of interviews with real performers. It ran for over 6,000 performances, and was the longest running musical of all time before the furry monstrosity of Cats came along. And it’s run quite frequently since then, with large-scale productions running all the way up to a 2013 West End revival and a 2014 production in Oslo.
There was also, regrettably, a film.
Read the rest over at the blog!