This Broadway artist is bringing “A Chorus Line” home to Lexington
Lyndy Franklin Smith picks up the prop hat and taps the inside center. The top pops up, and a smile spreads across her face.
“I remember learning ‘One’ for the first time at 890 Broadway, and the first time we hit that position with the hat on the head and the shoulder up, I cried,” Smith says, choking slightly, “just because you feel in that moment that you’re part of history and part of the legacy.”
That was 2006, and Smith was in New York City making her Broadway debut in the revival “A Chorus Line,” the iconic 1975 musical about the lives of musical theater performers that won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1976.
The revival was directed by Bob Avian, co-choreographer of the original production with director Michael Bennett, who died in 1987. The choreographer was Baayork Lee, who played Connie in the original production and based her work on Bennett and Avian’s original choreography.
Stepping into that line was Smith, then Lyndy Franklin, who served as a swing actor covering several roles in the show, and as the assistant dance captain and eventual dance captain of the production, responsible for tasks such as teaching new performers to the show their roles.
“The important thing about dance is you must pass it on,” Michael Gorman, assistant choreographer of the revival said to the Herald-Leader in 2006. “With Lyndy, we said, ‘Hey, you can pass this on,’ and it’s overwhelming to her at times. I’ll laugh at her or smile at her and say, ‘You have no idea what’s coming, do you?’”
What has come, 12 years later, is Smith and her husband Jeromy Smith are now in their fourth season running The Lexington Theatre Company, a troupe that combines the talents of professional Broadway actors, aspiring collegiate performers from around the country, and artists based here in the Bluegrass to put up summer productions at the Lexington Opera House.
Smith admits she always had presenting “A Chorus Line” in the back of her mind when the company started. This year, the company’s first presenting two shows, turned out to be the right time to do it. After presenting a mammoth production of the Meredith Wilson classic “The Music Man,” returning to “A Chorus Line” offered the company a chance to continue, while easing up on the set and costume departments and working with a smaller ensemble.
But that hardly means anyone is taking a break. “A Chorus Line” is known as a monumental task for musical theater performers as singers, actors and dancers. And considering its towering place in the lives of Smith and many of her fellow performers, no one is phoning this show in.
“The nerves are still there, only because it’s that same responsibility of wanting to get it right,” Smith says. Referring the the revival directors, she adds, “If they were to come and see it, my wish is they would pat me on the back and say, ‘Good job, kid.’”
Some of her colleagues then say that in retrospect, they could see the budding artistic director, stage director and choreographer during the 2006 production.
“She was a beautiful performer, but as dance captain, for such a small in size person she had a great, gracious command,” said Mara Davi, who made her Broadway debut along with Smith as Maggie in “Chorus Line” and played Marian in The Lex’s “Music Man,” this month. “Everyone trusted her. She was diligent and such a great listener, with spot-on technique and style.”
“The great thing about Lyndy is she’s such a splendid actor and storyteller, that transitioning to director, you know she’s not just about the movement,” Davi says. “She takes the acting very seriously.”
Denis Lambert, who joined the revival cast while Smith was with the show and is playing Zack in this production, says, “I’m impressed with how many little details she remembers. She knows the show so well, and she has a sense of where she has to be really faithful and where she can let the actors play.”
“She’s not saying, ‘This is what we did in the revival, so this is what you have to do,” says Broadway veteran Eloise Kropp, who plays Val. “She’s more like, ‘Here’s an outline of what we did, but what do you have? Let’s play, let’s make it yours, let’s talk about it.’”
This may be a trip down memory lane for Smith, but she is also making new memories.
This isn’t New York
“I’m really committed to allowing this company to find its own path, its own way — giving them the minutiae, the details, the depths, ‘this number, hit this arm so,’ but at the same time, in terms of their character development, giving them room to find their own way to it, and to make it different, so that it’s not just like what we did in New York,” Smith says. “This is The Lex’s version of ‘A Chorus Line.’”
Every production is also a chance to burnish the company’s reputation as a place professionals and aspiring artists can come to do good work and grow, which is a real challenge considering the company puts up its productions in a little bit more than two weeks.
“I’ve been in situations where it’s a mess,” says Broadway veteran Anne Horak, who plays Sheila. “Lyndy is such a breath of fresh air. She is so on top of everything, nothing is stressed. She has everything mapped out. We come in and she knows exactly what we’re going to accomplish. We’re in such good hands. It’s such a relief when you’re putting up a show this quickly.”
During a one hour stretch on Wednesday morning, Smith took various groupings of performers through “At the Ballet” and “One,” showing them the steps. When she peels herself away to watch, her feet often keep moving, and while rehearsing Sarah Bowden as Cassie in her climactic “Music in the Mirror” dance, Smith shouts out beats as Bowden hits them.
“I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘You need to stop dancing and move to the side so the people who are doing it can perform,’” Smith says. “Stop enjoying yourself so much.”
Custodian of history
Lambert says, “On a personal level, I’m so moved seeing how much joy she has passing this on.”
Jeromy Smith, who was engaged to Smith during the 2006 revival, says, “The first time around she loved every minute of it and poured her heart and soul into it, because she wanted to be the best she could possibly be.
“Now, getting to watch her impart it to other people is pure joy,” adds Smith, The Lex’s producing director. “I know that she loved performing, but I feel that in this moment, doing this, she had found what she’s supposed to do with her life, and the joy that she gets from sharing these stories and this masterpiece with people is something that is thrilling to watch.”
Lyndy Franklin Smith appeared in one other Broadway show, “The Little Mermiad” in 2008 and ‘09. But the couple wanted to settle down and have a family, so they moved back to Lexington where they have taught at the University of Kentucky and done other theatrical work, including founding the Lexington Theatre Company in 2014.
To the Smiths, it is a way to use the expertise they gained living and working in New York to create a place to develop young artists in their hometown and give local audiences professional shows produced in Lexington. Already, several young performers who have worked with The Lex have gone on to make Broadway debuts.
“This really feels so right,” she says. ”You have those feelings in life where you feel like ‘I am right where I’m supposed to be, doing right what I’m supposed to be doing.
“It’s the time of my life. I’m maybe happier than I’ve ever been.”
IF YOU GO
‘A Chorus Line’
What: The Lexington Theatre Company’s production of the classic musical composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Edward Kleban and book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 2, 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 4; 1 p.m. Aug. 5.
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.