Most show tunes take on a different, often deeper meaning when heard in the context of their show.
What I Did for Love is a prime example. Just hear it on the radio or from a singer, and it sounds like a wistful song about something or someone who's gone.
Hear it performed in the context of A Chorus Line, the iconic Broadway show for which it was written, and it is a heartbreaking song sung by artists contemplating what it would be like if they no longer were able to dance or sing — no longer able to pursue the lifelong dreams for which they have sacrificed everything.
The song comes up frequently when talking to members of the cast of SummerFest's production of A Chorus Line.
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Set on a bare stage during an audition for a Broadway show and based on actual stories, A Chorus Line — with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante — focuses on the inner lives of a group of dancers and how and why they chose to sacrifice so much for their art. The critically acclaimed and much-loved musical, which opened on Broadway in 1975, won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it was for many years the longest-running show in Broadway history. It was revived in New York in 2006.
We spoke to some of the 17 triple-threats (singers, dancers and actors) in director Wes Nelson's SummerFest cast of A Chorus Line, and all say they find plenty to identify with in the musical, despite it being nearly 40 years old.
Cindy Head (who plays Diana, the dancer under estimated by her teachers, who sings Nothing): These are our lives. Even if your character's story is not your story, you're going to find some similarity to your story in someone else onstage. Sometimes it's too close to home.
Josh Stone (Paul, a gay high school dropout with a troubled childhood and one of the leads in I Hope I Get It): There are all kinds of shows where you might relate to one character in the show. But in this show, everyone can find a character to say, "That's my story. That's what I relate to in my life."
Avery Wigglesworth (Connie, a short dancer and a lead in Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love): It's a nice way to affirm that when you walk into an audition room, everyone has their own personal story for being there, and you should remember that, but at the same time you are working toward a larger goal that has to be served, and sacrifices will have to be made ... .
Jenny Fitzpatrick (who is the show's choreographer and plays Cassie, the dancer hoping to restart her career, whose showcase is The Music and the Mirror): The entire show, to me, is about sacrifice, and that's what I found the most out of Cassie and that's what I found the most out of the show that I can relate my own personal sacrifices to so many that exist.
Being on the older side of the cast and having come through so much, having gone to California and lived and come back, and having to stand onstage and talk about that exact same experience and making sacrifices for love to do what we do and have long-distance relationships and all of those things that all of us standing up there experience every single day of our lives.
And for me, there's the bigger question of what it means to be a dancer, what you put your body through, how hard it is daily, physically, to have that focus ... .
Head: And the ticking clock ... .
Fitzpatrick: The ticking clock, because your body doesn't last forever. To know what it means to be a dancer, there's no better show than A Chorus Line. ... You put everything on the line for one moment.
Ellie Clark (Sheila, an aging dancer and one of the leads in At the Ballet): A lot of cattle-call auditions, they don't ask you to be vulnerable and be yourself. You have to dance the best, you have to look the best, and you have to sing the best, and then he starts asking us all personal questions, and he wants us to be vulnerable, and you can see a lot of people are resistant — "Give me a script, give me a song" — and he says, "Just talk about you," and they're like, "I don't do that." ...
It's really hard to be vulnerable in cattle-call auditions because it's not personal. It's about what you look like, what mold you fit, what exactly they're looking for. If you sit in an audition and let a little bit of your heart be revealed, it does become a devastating industry we're in.
Whit Whitaker (Richie, who once wanted to be a teacher and a lead in Gimme the Ball): You are in this business setting yourself up for disappointment. So if you're not putting it all out on the line, because if you give your all, you know even in disappointment, "I tried my hardest."
Patrick Garr (Mike, a tapper whose signature song is I Can Do That): You think A Chorus Line is a dance show, but what you find is that through that vulnerability, it's more about the relationships that are formed and about the whole process of auditioning. ... I've been through the New York process recently, and it's kind of funny because everything is like, a picture and a résumé. And you have to show yourself and who you are as an individual to stand out and show you can be a person and not just a picture on a résumé.
Clark: Everybody knows everybody here, and if you don't know somebody and they're talented, you're like, "Where did you come from? Thank God, you're here." ... On Broadway one-in-a-million are that talented, because everybody goes to New York. You could be just as talented as the person standing next to you, but if they happen to be watching that person, that's it.
I felt really taken care of in the Chorus Line audition because I knew that even if I was really horrible, Wes and Jenny would be like, "Thanks for trying." On Broadway it's like, "You're cut, you're cut and you're cut," and there are no thank-yous. Well, there is a thank-you, but they don't really mean it.
Ashleigh Chrisena Ricci (Val, who sings Dance: Ten; Looks: Three, about not getting jobs until she had plastic surgery): I haven't been in the New York market or a big market. But I have been moving around regional theater and doing a lot of auditions in Kansas City and all over Missouri and Iowa and stuff like that, and it's hard too in a different way because you do know everybody, and so when you do get passed over for a part, it's a lot more personal. ... It's a different challenge, not as soul-sucking, but you're forced to put more on the line.
Clark: It's harder, when you know people.
Ricci: It's like, here's my soul for you. You can do that in front of a stranger ... but if I know I'm going to turn around and see you the next day on the street, I'm going to be more reserved.
Colton Ryan (Al, who is auditioning with his wife, who can't sing): People think acting is such a hobby and something people do just for fun. But there are people in the show, and I am not old enough to have really seen it though hopefully I will someday, but it's like life or death in this business, and one part could change everything. But to get those parts, you really have to fight for it, and I didn't see that until we started doing this show.
Paige Mason (Judy, a tall dancer in Mother and And ...): Colton and I are both going to schools in the fall to really pursue musical theater, and this really made it real to me, like, "Holy crap, what did I get myself into?"
When we started talking about what we would do if we couldn't dance anymore, because that's a question in the show, and people started talking about their real stories, hearing Ellie's story or Jenny's story of why they're in the business and why it's so hard to stay in the business, that's where it became real for me.
Because these stories, even though they're not our stories, it was touching to hear that Ellie has her story that could be in A Chorus Line and Jenny has her story that could be in A Chorus Line. So these are real people we are being, and real stories.
IF YOU GO
'A Chorus Line'
What: SummerFest's production of the Broadway musical
When: 8:45 p.m. July 24-28, July 31-Aug. 4. Gates open at 7.
Where: The Arboretum, 500 Alumni Dr.
Tickets: General admission: $15 advance, $18 gate; reserved chair: $20 advance, $25 gate; reserved blanket for four: $65 advance, $90 gate. Order at Mykct.org.