Chorus Line is back. And so am I. I saw the original in 1975 as a 25-year-old starry eyed stage manager who believed that my work in the wacky, burgeoning field of experimental theater would feed me body and soul.
I am back weeping in the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. I am now 56, and old enough to be friends with the man whose name graces the theater. That is a small testament to the time and water under my theatrical bridge. I have worked all over the world with various theater, dance, and interdisciplinary companies. I have gone to galas and cleaned the toilets. I have held friends, too many friends, in my arms as they moved toward dying because of the scourge of AIDS. I have raised funds, raised the curtain, razed buildings, and endeavored to produce work that might raise spirits.
In the end I left working in the theater to write about it. The endless scrounging for money, funders, audiences, and enthusiasm had taken its toll and I moved to become a journalist, a writer. Still working in the arts but not as gut wrenching. And so I know, I feel, much of the struggle that is sung, danced and emoted in A Chorus Line. I have never been a performer, yet am married to one. And still I know the agony of “I need that job. I really need that job.”
Working in experimental theater, working as an artist is more a calling than a profession. And A Chorus Line vibrantly portrays that sentiment. After all, the very bright, creative Michael Bennett spent hours interviewing and recording real dancers’ experiences, people who were struggling to find their inner muses and feed them through work in the theater. And even though there is an ongoing controversy about whether or not they were ripped off when they were paid a dollar for their heartfelt stories, that is a question for the lawyers. Our only task as audience is to allow them to move us, to enlighten us, and for many of us from a certain era, to transport us to another time.
I sat, and as the lights dimmed it was as if a time machine took me back to 1975. One dancer, Bobby, wore a green T-shirt emblazoned with the logo tkts on it. This represented the then new organization selling tickets at half price in Father Duffy Square, 47th Street. The Theater Development Corporation ran it, and many of us wore the shirts as we worked hawking this innovation to tourists and passersby. Mine was blue with hot pink lettering. I had not given that shirt a thought in 30 years, yet here was its mate singing and dancing, and even this simple shirt flooded me with memory.
As audiences, we have now seen many shows that used Chorus Line as inspiration, a stage filled with great stories illuminated by performers who are beyond human in their capacity to move, sing, and fill the bare stage, vibrating with emotion. This 2006 Chorus Line does just that. Each of us in the audience reacts to different characters: Are we reliving coming out and discovering homosexuality, recalling spurned love, shyness triumphed by performance, or the thrill of making magic?
When near the finale Diana sings “What I Did For Love,” I lost it. I realized that my life, the crazy arc of my life, was all lived for love. I worked for more than two decades in the theater, where I earned nothing, had no savings, no IRA or retirement plan, but I was crammed full of excitement, had a coterie of equally joyful, wild friends and traveled around the world in circles. I have watched the spinning beauty of dancers, had my chest heave with the vibrancy of song, and seen my eyes melt night after night as words unlocked places I never knew existed. And yes, I did it all for love.
And yes, now I have less in my hard-figure balance sheet than many others who eschewed making magic and worked in what we used to call disparagingly “straight jobs.” But I have sewn to me, along with my wrinkles, blisters, and sliver hairs, an array of memory, experience, and people whom I would never trade. When what you do is actually done for love, then there is no balance sheet that can measure it.
If A Chorus Line will do nothing else, it will remind us of the magic that is theater, music, and dance, and for 90 minutes we will revel in that reality.