In the 360-degree world of reality TV and behind-the-scenes blogs, videos and other Internet content, there are plenty of opportunities to look into the lives of Broadway actors and hopefuls. But few shows have peered into the lives of triple threats the way A Chorus Line does.
"Even though it was written in 1975, there are still things we relate to today," says Paul Flanagan, who plays Al in the touring production of the show, which stops at the Lexington Opera House this weekend. "Whenever we get to the second part of the show and sing What I Did for Love as a company for the first time, it's just a sob fest, because we're all so invested in our careers, and this is an outlet to express how we feel."
In the mid-'70s A Chorus Line — written by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante, with music by lyricist Edward Kleban and composer Marvin Hamlisch — was a revolutionary show. In an era of big-star musicals, it was an ensemble show with a cast of 19. That ensemble plays the auditioners for the chorus of a Broadway show. They aren't going for a big part. They'll dance behind the star. But they approach the audition with desperation, singing, "God, I hope I get it."
The look of the show, until the glittery finale, is threadbare, with auditioners in dance warm-up clothes being put through their paces by imperious director Zach.
"It tells the untold story of the chorus," says Flanagan, whose character is best known as part of the duet Sing. "Back then, in the '70s, we would do these huge musicals where a star would come out and there would be dancers behind the star, and you'd leave the theater singing the song the star sang and never really think about the chorus members. That's why this show was so revolutionary, because it shined a light on what we as true dancers go through."
The show produced some hits, including What I Did for Love; the show-stopping One; and other musical theater favorites such as Sing, which was performed recently on Glee.
And like many revolutionary works, it won a lot of honors, including Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, and for many years it stood as the longest- running show on Broadway.
The 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, on which this weekend's production is based, made no attempt to update the show, leaving it firmly ensconced in the 1970s. So, although the emotions are mostly the same, the world that Broadway hopefuls inhabit now is very different.
For instance, Flanagan says, in the show, winning auditioners are told to go sign contracts at an office, whereas now, a performer's agent negotiates with the producers for a contract that is formalized by mail. And then there's the matter of the audition venue: the theater.
"The novelty of being on a Broadway stage is completely gone," Flanagan says. "I've been to one audition where they opened up the Broadway stage, and it made it so much more tangible, like, 'I'm here. I can do this. I'm on the stage that I'll be performing on.' Now, we go to the studio, and there's a disconnect."
With a behind-the-scenes show like A Chorus Line, there is the risk of a disconnect between the show and the audience if they are not that interested in peering into the lives of actors. But Flanagan says there are parts of the story that anyone can embrace.
"I think the audience, if they are not a performer, can relate to the interview side of it," he says. "Every person has gone on an interview for a job, and that's what Zach is trying to do with this, is take it from, 'Can you dance and sing?' to 'I want to get to know you.'"
And almost everyone has gone into an interview thinking, "God, I hope I get it."