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Photo Credit :: A Chorus Line
Arts & Entertainment
A Chorus Line at the Schoenfeld Theater
by Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
October 17, 2006 
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Thirty years ago.

The first time I saw A Chorus Line, I was the same age as the youngest character. The baby on the line. Twenty years old. I was leaving the next morning for a junior year abroad in France. I sat in the front row of the mezzanine, sandwiched between my two best college girlfriends and my two parents and as Paul’s monologue unfolded, I nearly panicked. I was sure my parents were hearing me in Paul’s words. And when Paul recounted how his father had asked the producer to take care of his son, I thought I could hear my father asking the same thing. The difference being that I wasn’t heading off to do a drag show, but merely heading into the world: “And now life really begins. Go to it.”

And then during my senior year of college, the theatre department took a trip to New York and all the theatre majors came back to campus singing “What I Did For Love.”
All spring term, “What I Did For Love” rang across the quad from the dorm where the artsy-theatre kids hung out.

And when I lived in San Francisco after college, I played the cast album in my tiny room, a subconscious reminder to my roommates, and to me, that I really belonged in New York.

And then a couple years later, there was that Christmas Eve day in New York when I bought the cast album a second time, because somewhere in transit, I’d lost my first copy – and oh, how we played that album, over and over, in our first New York apartment, which happened to be the apartment directly below Cleavant Derricks, Tony Award winner for Dreamgirls. And how many hours did we spend debating whether Dreamgirls or A Chorus Line was the number one Broadway musical of all time.

And then there was that late September day in 1983 when A Chorus Line became the longest-running show in Broadway history with its 3,389th performance. That afternoon, there was an invited black-tie dress, and fortunately, my best friend was in the business and we scored two tickets. Everyone was buzzing with anticipation and 44th Street was closed to all traffic and when the show began, Michael Bennett had a cast of 332 dancers from four continents all parading down the aisles of the Shubert Theatre and singing in a multitude of languages representing the various touring companies of A Chorus Line— And thereafter, it seemed there was no argument (and contrary to what the marquee on the Winter Garden then said about Cats): for now and forever, it would always be A Chorus Line.

And over the next six years, the ten or so performances we witnessed, sometimes as a consequence of Theatre Development Fund ticket offers, and sometimes because my parents were in town, and now it was no longer so unsettling to sit next to them during Paul’s monologue because now I was there with them, with my boyfriend, holding hands.

And then, there was that late September afternoon in 1987: Michael Bennett’s memorial service. And though there were speakers placed outside, all along Shubert Alley, to enable an overflow crowd to hear the service and “the celebration of Michael’s life,” there were actually empty seats inside the Shubert Theatre, one right next to me, for example, and perhaps because at that point in the AIDS epidemic, people were too enervated by grief to hear tributes – even to a creative genius dead too soon. And even our neighbor Cleavant Derricks, after singing his number, left the service early because as he said, “I couldn’t take it any more,” a remark which mirrored his line from Dreamgirls where he sang, “I can’t sing any more sad songs.” That’s how it was then, the sense of loss so palpable, from so many walks of life.

And finally, that day late in April 1990 when A Chorus Line played its 6,137th and final performance in New York. And how for so long thereafter, to walk by the Shubert Theatre of an evening when the sun was settling over the Hudson River, there was something strange, something missing now that the words A CHORUS LINE were no longer in white lights high above Shubert Alley.

Sixteen years ago. A Chorus Line has been gone from New York for sixteen years – but not absent from the heartland. High school productions and college productions and summer stock and touring companies have kept those songs and monologues alive for a new generation of dancers. And during those years when A Chorus Line was playing everywhere but New York, there were nights when, driving to our country house, we’d pop in a tape, one of those compilations of music made in the last days before CDs – and through the dark of night, we’d be singing, “There’s a lot, I am not, certain of…. Hello twelve, hello, thirteen, hello, love.”

A Chorus Line stored on the gene code – waiting for the revival. We knew it would happen. We talked about it. Some day they’re going to revive A Chorus Line. And that day has now arrived.

At the Schoenfeld Theatre (formerly known as the Plymouth when A Chorus Line was last in town), seventeen new gypsies face the audience. Some fresher than others, some seasoned Broadway vets, such as Charlotte d’Amboise and Michael Berresse. The house is sold-out, albeit filled with corporate suits, bearing their logo’ed gift bags. The median age is easily fifty to sixty. And then the lights dim – and there it comes, at last, that welcome command to attention: “Again. Five, six, seven, eight”

It’s impossible to be objective, not with something so indelibly printed on the memory bank. The show and its history have paralleled our adulthood. Our history in New York. In essence, we’ve always had A Chorus Line, which means, perhaps, our life might be inconceivable without it. Or at the very least, our life would be different. Thirty years have passed since I first saw this show from the front mezzanine. Nearly two generations of life and death. And yet to hear again those lyrics and the monologues so familiar as to be almost liturgical is to be transported back – and to make real the old adage, If I knew then what I know now. Because that’s what the current revival enables each and every one of us first touched by this show however many years ago: a chance to go there again. To that place of first discovery: be it of love, sexuality, life, career, fame or glory. To live again that sense of wonder when so much was in front of us, waiting, just out of reach, and all of it marvelously fresh.