A Chorus Line is an iconic American musical that helped revolutionize musical theater. Michael Bennett’s 1975 show told the true stories of so-called dance gypsies - the people who audition for the chorus in musicals.
They’re the utility hitters of Broadway shows - triple threats who need to be able to sing, dance, and act. And they’re often auditioning for their next job while they’re in the middle of their current one. This Sunday and Monday, the Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Theater Red are combining forces to present a concert staging of A Chorus Line.
Jill Anna Ponasik of Milwaukee Opera Theatre says, "[The original production] is so human. It was developed entirely from the taped stories of gypsy Broadway dancers over many, many nights together in 1974. You can tell that it is real... there's a genuine honesty about the material itself that pervades. [The actors] were either playing themselves or their friends or a collage of multiple friends."
She says a key question for this production was: "What does that [honesty] mean for us?... Could we also honor it by being ourselves?"
Choreographer James Zager plays Mark, the youngest person in the chorus, and says, "I feel like I have been each one of these characters on the line, so I think it's awesome that I'm going back to the young guy who just wants to be in a show."
Theater Red’s Marcee Doherty-Elst explains that, like Zager, some of the cast members are actually musical-veterans who have played parts in other companies' stagings of this show. Whether the artists are novices or extremely experienced, she says, the thrust of the program remains the same.
"The central theme of our production is: What would you do for love? What does it mean to dedicate a lifetime to the arts? And why do we do this to ourselves?" Doherty-Elst laughs. "Why do we go through audition processes and rejection? And why do we do it? It's because we love it and we have a need to because otherwise you wouldn't choose this life."
Zager agrees with Elst, "It's about what it's like to continue every day to reinvent yourself as an artist."
A Chorus Line is being staged this Sunday and Monday at the Nancy Kendall Theater at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.