God, I hope I get it.
I hope I get it.
How many people does he need?
In 1975, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Edward Kleban, and writers James Kirkwood
, Jr. and Nicholas Dante decided to collaborate on a musical about the lives of those folks on the Broadway chorus line. They gathered a bunch of their friends in acting and dancing together for a long night of conversation (and wine) and tape-recorded what was said. This was the result.
In this musical, the lives of many dancers converge on stage as they audition for a big musical. They do their best to impress the director, Zach, and hope they get the job. However, once they're down to seventeen, Zach makes a surprising request: he asks the dancers to tell their names, ages, and a little bit of their Back Story
- where they come from and why they dance. Ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking, they tell their stories one by one. After one of them faces a possible career-ending injury, everyone confronts the question: what does it mean to them? In the end, eight are chosen.
They all reunite on stage for the final number, for which each performer is dressed identically, removing all the individuality we learned about them through the production.
This Show features examples of:
- A-Cup Angst: Val, as told in her number, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."
Val: You're looking at my tits now.
Connie: I'd settle for just one of yours.
Val: Well, go out and buy them!
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: One of the few aversions: the story and songs were completely new.
- Ambiguously Gay: Bobby.
- Award Bait Song: From the film adaptation, "Surprise, Surprise", which many fans of the musical despised because it cut out "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen", with some really dumb lyrics. (And yes, it earned an Academy Award nomination.)
- Back Story: The point is to give the anonymous chorus backgrounds, stories, and voices of their own - and it was done by giving them the stories of the original actors.
- Babies Make Everything Better: "... I was born to save their marriage, but when my father picked my mother up from the hospital, he said 'Well, I thought this was going to help, but I guess it's not.'"
- Bittersweet Ending: It's between this and a Downer Ending: One of the dancers injures his knee, with a 50-50 chance of ever being able to dance again. Only some of the dancers will be accepted into the chorus line; the others have to go. That's the reality of show business. The chosen dancers are all dressed in identical costumes for the final number, merely back-up for the main character that we never see.
- Blessed with Suck: All of these characters have phenomenal skill. It's a shame that one day they'll have to stop doing the only thing they know how to do, and what they love, because their bodies won't be able to handle it anymore.
- Camp Gay: Greg and Paul are openly gay. Bobby is fairly flamboyant, but his sexuality is never mentioned.
- Coming-of-Age Story: Seventeen in all!
- Coming-Out Story: Paul and Greg.
- Cruel Mercy: In the film adaptation, Zack screams at an obviously poor dancer in way over her head to get out. She leaves crying, but honestly, she wasn't listening to his instructions and maybe she will reconsider a career in something she's hopeless in.
- Distant Finale: Okay, maybe a few months in the future finale, but still.
- Dysfunction Junction: Aside from the fact that they've chosen a job which by its very nature means they have all experienced unemployment, poverty, rejection and possibly injury, many of the dancers have traumatic backstories, including absent, estranged or disapproving parents, homophobia, sexual molestation, the death of family members, and bullying. No one is overly angsty about it though, and all of their experiences are based on the lives of real people.
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: "What I Did For Love."
- Ensemble Cast: There's no set protagonist, the show centers around these seventeen characters who all get equal Character Development and stage time. Zach and Larry, the director and dance coach, also play a role, although the story is about the seventeen dancers.
- Evolving Music: Judy Turner's lyrics in "And..." can differ in at least three different ways, depending on the particular dancer's height and weight.
- Connie, who is usually but not always Asian, describes her first professional role as a five-year-old in The King and I or summer stock depending on the actress' ethnicity.
- Girl Next Door: Maggie, Bebe.
- Growing Up Sucks: "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen," and a more direct example, "At the Ballet".
- Height Angst: Connie suffers from this:
Connie: Four foot ten, four foot ten
That's the story of my life
I remember when everybody was my size
Boy, was that great! But then everybody started moving up, and there I was, stuck at
Four foot ten, four foot ten
But I kept hoping and praying...
I used to hang from a parallel bar by the hour
Hoping I'd stretch
Just an inch more...
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Kristine, as demonstrated in her song "Sing!"
- Although true for a number of the replacement actresses, the original Kristine, Renee Baughman, was genuinely unable to stay on key.
- Ironically, on the original cast recording, Kristine's husband Al is pretty out of tune for most of the song.
- I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Val. Or rather, Cast Me.
- "I Want" Song: From the film adaptation, "Let Me Dance For You".
- Informed Attractiveness: Bebe
- Just The Way You Are: Averted. Val advises to definitely improve themselves with plastic surgery ("Keep the best of you, do the rest of you") in the song "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three". Of course, in this case, it's purely economic - pretty, busty dancers get work. "Flat and sassy" dancers don't.
- Long Runners: This was the longest-running Broadway musical for some time, beaten by Cats.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: Plenty of the musical is this.
- "I Hope I Get It" and the montage.
- The final version of "One", especially in the film adaptation when over a hundred identically clad dancers do the number.
- Minsky Pickup: The show starts with this.
- Movie Bonus Song: 'Surprise, Surprise' (Academy Award nominated), and 'Let me dance for you.'
- Non-Answer: The director asks the cast what they would do if, one day, they could no longer dance. Would they have anything at all to fall back on? They don't answer, instead they sing "What I Did For Love," about moving towards tomorrow without regret or pain, which is a great song, but doesn't answer the question.
- Older Than They Look: Connie.
- Old Maid: Exeggerated. Sheila's father told her mother she was one, despite her only being 22.
- Refrain from Assuming: Val's number was originally called 'Tits and Ass,' but was re-titled after the first line in the song to keep audiences from getting the joke. (In high school productions, the number is redubbed "This and That.")
- Roman à Clef: All of the characters are based on recorded interviews with real dancers. Some of the dancers, like Renee Baughman and Priscilla Lopez, were eventually cast as "themselves." Maggie's story actually belongs to Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie), while Paul's story was originally co-author Nicholas Dante's, and so forth.
- Sadist Teacher: Diana Morales tells the story of one from her drama school days in her number, "Nothing."
- Shaped Like Itself: From "One":
"She walks into a room and you know she's uncommonly rare, very unique."
- Snark Knight: Bobby.
"...but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant."
- What Measure Is a Mook? / Lower Deck Episode: The musical theatre variety. The chorus line of a musical are anonymous, less-skilled dancers who are generally there for the money. A Chorus Line examines the lives of these people; explored further in the film adaptation when Cassie, a genuinely talented dancer, auditions - Zack is aghast that she would stoop that low (Cassie doesn't care, she needs the money.) The point is hammered home in the "One" finale, when the original dancers are joined by dozens of identical versions of themselves.