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Theatre / A Chorus Line

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I really need this job. Please, God, I need this job. I've got to get this job.

"God, I hope I get it.
I hope I get it.
How many people does he need?"
— From the Opening Chorus number

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, later joined by choreographer Michael Bennett. 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 Backstory - 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.

The original was a Long Runner for the 15 years (1975-90) on which it ran on Broadway, while it ran for 3 years in London's West End. It was later given a not-much successful movie in 1985 (marking its 10th year) and was revived in 2006 (Broadway) and 2012 (West End). Two of its songs ("One" and "What I Did for Love") have become fan favorite songs. In 2000 a Tony-nominated semi-autobiographical musical was mounted about Ed Kleban and the creation of A Chorus Line called A Class Act, deliberately repeating the "A" placed ahead of the name employed to give the original show alphabetical priority in the theater listings.


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!
    • From "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen":
    "Made it through high school without growing tits!"
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: One of the few aversions: the story and songs were completely new.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Bobby.note 
  • 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.
  • Character Shilling: "One," the musical's closing number, further insults the dancers and their talent by telling the audience to ignore them and focus on the (unseen) star of the show. Then again, the film and large productions have a hundred identical dancers singing the song, which basically drives the point home.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Seventeen in all!
  • Coming-Out Story: Paul and Greg.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: In the film adaptation, Zach 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.
    • To be fair, it wasn't that she was necessarily a poor dancer, it was that she hadn't learned the combination. At that stage in a "cattle-call" audition when the people in charge of casting are watching around 10-20 people at any given time, especially for the chorus, any dancer that pulls focus for whatever reason is a liability because it means the people in charge can't watch everyone they need to. It's one of the reasons he keeps calling Cassie out later. Zach wasn't necessarily trying to be kind to her, but to the other dancers who did know the combination that were dancing with her.
  • Directors Girlfriend: Inverted, Cassie, legitimately auditioning for a part as a dancer in the show is Zach's ex-girlfriend.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in the film with Cassie, who gets the most attention, while she insists everyone in the chorus line is special.
  • 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.
  • Fanservice: Justified since they're all actual dancers, and the clothing they wear is what real dancers wear for practices, but the entire cast spends the vast majority of the play walking around in their practice uniforms, which means form-fitting tights (for the boys) and leotards (for the girls.)
  • 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...
  • Hide Your Gays: Richie ("She's bitchy!") was Camp Gay (borderline Drag Queen) in the original musical and turned into a straight guy in the 1985 film (singing about having sex with a girl in a graveyard in "Surprise, Surprise").
  • 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 Just Want to Be Normal: Cassie. Zach disagrees.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Everyone in the cast but Cassie.
  • "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. It ran a record 15 years, holding the title from 1983 to 1997.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: A Deconstruction of the trope.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: Plenty of the musical is this.
    • "I Hope I Get It" and the montage.
  • Medley Overture: Marvin Hamlisch had composed one which included "I Hope I Get It", "Nothing", "At the Ballet", "Dance Ten, Looks Three", "What I Did For Love" and "One", before deciding on an In Medias Res opening with "I Hope I Get It".
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: The number of auditioning dancers who say they were inspired to dance by watching The Red Shoes (1948) - at least until Val shows up.
  • 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."
  • Time Marches On: In "Dance Ten, Looks Three," Val sings about getting some plastic surgery while she's on unemployment (as her looks are the reason she's not getting jobs, according to her). In the 1970's, this was apparently plausible. But with inflation over some forty years, it's very hard to imagine an actress, in New York City, on unemployment, could find a reliable doctor who would do such a good job — and it wouldn't "cost a fortune."
    • Actually, it was expensive in the 1970's, but as now, the surgery pays for itself when the recipient starts getting high pay jobs.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked in the film when Zach grabs Cassie to show her what she's auditioning for, as the other dancers are now mechanical, grinning automatons.
  • 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 later on when Cassie, a genuinely talented dancer, auditions - Zach 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.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Paul was forced into doing drag to get any sort of work. Then his parents saw him perform and couldn't look him in the eye afterward.


Example of: