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Theatre / A Chorus Line

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"God, I hope I get it
I hope I get it
How many people does he need?"
"Before we do any more dancing—and we will be dancing some more—let me explain something. I'm looking for a strong dancing chorus. I need people that look terrific together, and that can work together, as a group. But, there are some small parts that have to be played by the dancers I hire. Now, I have your pictures and résumés, I know what shows you've been in, but that's not gonna help me. And I don't want to give you just a few lines to read. I think it'd be better if I knew something about you. About your personalities. So I'm going to ask you some questions. I want to hear you talk. Treat it like an interview, I don't want you to think you have to perform. I just want to hear you talk, and be yourselves. And everybody just relax... as much as you can."

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.

Winning nine of its twelve Tony Award nominations, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the original production was a Long Runner for fifteen years (1975–90) on Broadway, while it ran for three years (1976–79) in London's West End. It was revived in 2006 (Broadway) and 2012 (West End). Two of its songs ("One" and "What I Did for Love") have become fan favorites. 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.

The Film of the Play was released in 1985 (the show's tenth anniversary), directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Michael Douglas as Zach. It was a critical and commercial flop.

This Show features examples of:

  • A-Cup Angst:
    • Val, as a teenager. From "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love":
      "Tits! When am I gonna grow tits?"
      "Made it through high school without growing tits!"
    • And then she had surgery, as she reveals in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three", whereupon we see that Connie still has a hang-up over her modest endowment.
      Val: You're looking at my tits now.
      Connie: I'd settle for just one of yours.
      Val: Well, go out and buy them!
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: At least three characters who are usually played by brunettes or redheads became bleached blondes in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion: "Nothing" was originally a part of "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen".
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: One of the few aversions: the story and songs were completely new.
  • All There in the Script:
    • Cassie doesn't give her family name during the introductions, but it is frequently identified in reviews and articles as Ferguson.
    • The dancers who are cut near the end of "I Hope I Get It" are named in the script, but not in the dialogue. The dancer who first sings "I really need this job" and dances in front of Sheila during the ballet combination is Tricia, the dancer with no ballet training who can only get through the jazz combination by watching Larry is Vicki Vickers, the dancer who dances the ballet and jazz combinations in identical styles is Lois Dilettente, the dancer with only one year of ballet who keeps getting his arms in the wrong position is Roy, the dancer with the headband who keeps looking at his feet while he dances is Frank, the dancer who dismisses Zach's corrections during the jazz combination only to repeat the same mistakes is Butch Burton, and the dancer who counts silently to himself during both combinations is Tom Tucker.
    • A number of the dancers have previously worked with each other and/or with Zach (this is most obvious when he addresses some of them by name during "I Hope I Get It", including Diana, Sheila, and Al); the relevant information is included in the script to help the performers ad lib interactions with each other, but is not explicitly stated on stage.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Judy discusses kissing her female friend as a teenager to practice and is quite defensive when she asks if anybody else did that.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Bobby is generally played as flamboyantly eccentric, and although he never says he is gay in so many words, it is strongly hinted, especially when he mentions he considered suicide. The fact he exchanges flirtatious glances with Greg (who openly admits to being gay and even tells his Coming-Out Story) and wears [ahem] revealing tights add to the hinting.
  • Artistic License – History: Connie states that she was born in the Chinese "year of the chicken". Later, her age is revealed to be 32. If Connie is 32 years old in 1975 (the show's setting in most productions), her birth year must be 1943 or 1942. However, that decade's "Year of the Rooster" was 1945. Additionally, she mentions performing in The King and I at age five, a show which did not premiere until 1951.
  • Asian Airhead: Connie Wong appears to be deliberately invoking the stereotype in her audition.
  • Attention Whore: Bobby was so into performing when he was younger, he'd go to a busy intersection and direct traffic just to get people to notice him, which escalated into breaking into houses just to move people's furniture around.
  • Award-Bait Song: From the film adaptation, "Surprise, Surprise", which replaced "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" so the musical could have an original song. (And yes, it earned an Academy Award nomination.)
  • Baby Don't Got Back: In "Dance 10, Looks 3", Val sings about how she auditioned well but kept losing roles to dancers with more assets. After a visit to a plastic surgeon, she found that getting bigger parts was all a matter of getting bigger parts.
    "Tits and ass have changed my liiiiiiiiife!"
  • 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: Subverted by Maggie's backstory, as told in "At the Ballet". The idea was that her birth would salvage her parents' marriage, but her father still abandoned the family as soon as she was born:
    "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.'"
  • Bait-and-Switch: At the very end, with Paul having been eliminated through injury, Zach asks eight of the remaining sixteen dancers - Don, Maggie, Connie, Greg, Sheila, Bebe, Al, Kristine - to step forward, seemingly implying that they are the eight he has chosen. This itself has a brief fake-out as he calls up Diane before clarifying he meant to call Kristine. However, the sharper characters (and audience members) note that he has called forward three men and five women... because they're the eight he has not chosen.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Well, career rather than man, but Val happily tells her fellow dancers that she's proud of the effects her breast augmentation and facial surgery have had on her career and sex life, and encourages them to follow suit.
  • Big Applesauce: A Broadway musical about the making of a Broadway musical could hardly be set anywhere other than New York, and the final seventeen dancers include five native New Yorkers - Al and Diana are from the Bronx, Paul is from Spanish Harlem, and Greg and Connie are from the East Side of Manhattan (Chinatown in Connie's case).
  • Big-Breast Pride: Sheila and Val. Val formerly had A-Cup Angst — which she overcame with the aid of a helpful plastic surgeon.
  • Big Finale Crowd Song: Towards the end, every one of the tryout dancers, even the ones rejected at the beginning, come onstage in full costume and perform the full version of "One", the dance number they were all learning at the beginning.
  • Bittersweet Ending: It's between this and a Downer Ending — one of the dancers suffers a likely Career-Ending Injury and only half the cast make the cut. That's the reality of show business. Even the chosen dancers are ultimately stripped of all individuality and personality to make them into set dressing for the "real" star.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: In the film version, Paul's contribution to the "One" finale is accompanied by a little Italian brass fanfare.
  • Bury Your Gays: While he doesn't die, the one character in the show who cannot be cast due to injury (Paul) happens to injure himself almost immediately after his big monologue about growing up gay.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Val certainly thinks so, and that's why she had a breast augmentation. The resulting boost to her career (and her sex life) suggests that the superiority of a large chest is a popular opinion.
  • Camp Gay: Greg and Paul are openly gay. Bobby is fairly flamboyant, but his sexuality is never mentioned.
  • Canon Foreigner: Kim, Zach's assistant, is only present in the movie.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A very subtle one in the film: Paul and Diana have a conversation offstage early on where he is seen taping his knee. It's the same knee that fails near the end of the film, sending him to the hospital.
  • Coming of Age Story: Each dancer tells the story of how they grew up and discovered their passion for dance.
  • Coming-Out Story:
    • Greg's childhood reminiscences include spending an hour feeling up a girl in the backseat of his car, and realising when she asked him "Don't you want to feel anything else?" that the answer was "No," his first indication that he was homosexual.
    • Paul tells Zach that when his family took him to the movies and he had to move to the front rows because of his bad eyesight, he was molested by "strange men", and so came to terms with his homosexuality at an early age.
  • Creator Couple: Invoked with Al and Kristine DeLuca, who are still in the heady early days of married life when they audition together. Throughout "I Hope I Get It", Al is seen taking Kristine aside to offer her encouragement while neither of them are dancing, since, as revealed in "Sing!", she has confidence issues stemming from her poor singing voice. Ultimately, neither of them are chosen for the final eight.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Lois is described in the script as a talented ballerina, but she struggles with any other style. In most productions, she performs the ballet combination flawlessly, only to dance the jazz combination with the same grace and fluidity when a sharper, livelier technique would be more appropriate. This leads Zach to cut her near the end of "I Hope I Get It".
  • 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 she hadn't learned the combination, and 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 is Zach's ex-girlfriend. Zach is reluctant to cast her... not because of old baggage but because he knows she's too good for the chorus line.
  • Distant Finale: Okay, maybe a few months in the future finale, but still; Zach's final speech to the eight dancers chosen for the chorus line explains that rehearsals begin in September and last six weeks, to be followed by two months of out-of-town tryouts, with the Broadway opening scheduled for January. The finale, a reprise of "One", is implied to be set during the Broadway run.
  • Dream Ballet: "At the Ballet" is often choreographed with ballet dancers seen from the waist down in the background during Sheila, Maggie, and Bebe's reminiscences of how ballet offered them a refuge from the banality or misery of their daily lives.
  • 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.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: None of the men, but both Sheila and Connie stare at Val during the opening number.
    Bobby: (grinning to Sheila) Great new body, eh?
    (Sheila is nonplussed)
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "What I Did for Love" is set between Paul injuring a knee on which he has recently had surgery, possibly putting a definitive end to his dance career, and the selection of the final eight dancers, as they dodge the question of what they will do when their dance careers end (as one day they will) and instead insist that they will remember that everything they did during their careers, they did for love of dancing.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: During the montage, Mike recalls that he was stuck with the nickname "Stinky" for three years at school after a single incident in which he broke wind in front of his classmates.
  • 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.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The play lasts roughly two hours (with no intermission) and, apart from the reprise of "One" (which is implied to be set several months later), covers the events of a similar amount of time.
  • 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). "One", the final number, is basically one big leg show.
  • Finding a Bra in Your Car: In "At the Ballet", Sheila remembers her mother digging what even she, aged only 5, recognised as another woman's earrings out of the car, but she decided not to broach the subject with her mother.
  • Flashback: The film adaptation expands the subplot of Zach and Cassie's failed relationship with flashbacks to both the happier times, when they were living together and Cassie's star was on the rise, and the sadder times, when their diverging careers caused them to spend more time apart until finally Cassie had enough and left.
  • Frozen in Time: The script for the original production included the description "Time: Now. Place: Here." However, the dialogue ties it very firmly to the 1970s, when Broadway was at a low ebb (a brief exchange in the lead-in to "What I Did for Love" sees some of the characters discussing the "Broadway is dying" naysaying that was going on at the time).note Characters reference growing up with The Ed Sullivan Show and refer to seedy areas of New York City that were replaced with more family-friendly attractions around the 1990s. Some productions, particularly Broadway revivals, run with this and explicitly identify the setting as 1975, while others try to impose a Setting Update.
  • The Ghost: We never see the 'star' at the center of the production for which these dancers will be the chorus. Her introductory number — sung by the official chorus line — is the closing song; the show ends just before she actually appears on stage.
  • Girl Next Door:
    • Maggie reveals that she was a physical late bloomer, and that even after her father abandoned the family, her mother was also often absent during her teenage years. As a result, she is unassuming and soft-spoken except when dancing, best exemplified when Zach has to tell her to speak up during the initial introductions.
    • Bebe was told by her mother that she would look "different" when she grew up, which even then she knew was a euphemism for "ugly", and although this made her resent her mother, she admits that she's not conventionally attractive.
      Mother always said I'd be very attractive when I grew up, when I grew up
      "Diff'rent," she said, "with a special something and a very, very personal flair."
      And though I was eight or nine, though I was eight or nine, though I was eight or nine
      I hated her
  • Growing Up Sucks:
    • "At the Ballet" sees Sheila, Maggie, and Bebe singing about how they realised, even as children, that adult life would be full of hardship and heartbreak, and the only refuge they found from both their own troubles and the troubles their parents either suffered or created for others was... well, the clue is in the title.
    • Among the many themes running through "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" is the dancers' collective realisation that, as difficult as things were for many of them as adolescents (broken homes, abusive peers, cruel teachers, the physical and psychological changes of puberty), their lives would remain difficult once they reached adulthood.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Every dancer has a story... but a story isn't enough to get you success on Broadway. Zach still has to cut half the cast as he only needs eight dancers. Even if you do make it into a show, it's not steady work, especially when Broadway itself is inconsistently profitable. Chances are you'll never break out of a faceless ensemble cast to be a big star, and trying to draw attention to yourself may only work against you. Your career is only as viable as your body, so once you hit a certain age or suffer a Career-Ending Injury, you'll need to find a new source of income. "What I Did For Love" and its preceding song have all the dancers acknowledge these harsh realities and embrace that they love the craft so much, they'll do it as long as they can, risk and all.
  • 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, as played by Ronald Dennis, and turned into a straight guy, as played by Gregg Burge, in the 1985 film (singing about having sex with a girl in a graveyard in "Surprise, Surprise").
    Richie: (singing) Imagine me this kindergarten teacher?
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: The original Kristine, Renee Baughman, was genuinely unable to stay on key, but her successors, as demonstrated in "Sing!", include some talented singers who have to pretend to be unable to carry a tune in a bucket, and tend to speak-sing or warble between being in and out of tune in a way no genuinely tone deaf singer would do.note 
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Cast Me rather than Obey, but this sums up Val's character. Since getting breast implants, her professional and personal lives have seen a significant uptick in activity, and she flaunts her artificially enlarged rack at every opportunity after seeing the responses it gets.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Cassie tried to make it as a star in Hollywood, but after her career stalled (a part in a mediocre film that wound up on the cutting room floor, plus a few commercials), she has returned to New York and just wants to go back into the chorus, where she feels she belongs. Zach disagrees, believing that she is too talented to settle for the anonymity of the chorus line.
    Cassie: Zach, I'm a gypsy. I never had an apartment in my life that wasn't a sublet! All I know how to do is to point my toes and leap!
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Everyone in the cast but Cassie.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When Larry starts drilling the increasingly exhausted dancers in the tap combination, Sheila grumbles that when it's all over, she really needs a drink.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Inverted with Bebe, who knew even as a child that when her mother said she would look "different", she meant "ugly", but some of the actresses who have played her over the years more than meet most standards of "conventionally attractive". Then again, she could have been The Ugly Duckling.
  • In Medias Res: As evidenced by the first word we hear being Zach shouting "Again!", the "cattle call" audition is already well under way by the time the opening Minsky Pickup cues the stage lights; the steps we see them rehearsing ("step-kick-kick-leap-kick-touch") are ultimately revealed to be roughly three-fourths of the way through the jazz combination.
  • Introdump: Once the dancers have been narrowed down to seventeen after "I Hope I Get It", Zach goes down the line and has each of them introduce themselves with their names (real names and, where applicable, stage names), birthplaces, and ages.
  • "I Want" Song:
    • "I Hope I Get It" sees the dancers angsting over how much they need the job they are auditioning for, ranging from young dancers looking for a career break to older dancers desperate to avoid having to answer the question "What will you do when you can no longer dance?"
    • From the film adaptation, "Let Me Dance for You" sees Cassie imploring Zach to give her chance to show that she can blend into the chorus line in the way he needs.
  • Job Song: Several songs are about professional dancing, but "Dance Ten, Looks Three" is more directly about it, being about a character trying to get a job as a dancer.
  • Just Smile and Nod: Zack snarks during the tap combo that if Connie is faking tap, she should at least smile bigger.
  • Just the Way You Are: Averted. Val advises her fellow dancers 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.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: From the original production, Bobby's Bait-and-Switch wordplay with the word "jacks" fails to impress his fellow dancers.
    Bobby: I was playing jacks... then the car fell on my head.
    (The other dancers groan.)
  • Last Het Romance: Greg's Coming-Out Story involves realising, while making out with a girl in the back of his car, that he doesn't actually want to go any further around the bases with her.
  • Last Note Nightmare: There's already a creepy undercurrent to the rehearsal version of "One", but the final four exclamations of "ONE!" really hammer it home, in spite of the major chord accompanying them.
  • 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:
    • "I Hope I Get It" sees the main cast members going in and out of the vocal spotlight as they get their turn dancing the combination and/or angst over how much they need the job.
    • The montage cuts rapidly back and forth between many characters talking about their backgrounds, how they got into dancing, whether and how adolescence was difficult for them, etc.
  • 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".
  • Minimalism: Except for the reprise of "One", which features a stereotypically glitzy Broadway backdrop, the only set we see is a wall of rehearsal room mirrors - and even they are obscured for most of the show.
  • Minsky Pickup: The show starts with this, played on a rehearsal piano to lead into Zach drilling the dancers in the combination for the first stage of the opening "cattle call" audition ("AGAIN! Step-kick-kick-leap-kick-touch - AGAIN!").
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • During the montage, the dancers' reminiscences of their early lives can go from light-hearted to tragic and back in a second. For example, at one point Al recalls the tokens of affection he collected from an assortment of romantic and/or sexual conquests in high school, then he moves across to remembering being in a car accident in which his friend Eddie was killed.
    • The third group for the tap combination consists of Maggie, Mike, Connie, and Paul. Connie admits that tap is not her strong suit, and her performance of the combination is appropriately - and comically - bad. (Zach snarks if she's going to fake it, smile bigger.) Then Paul slips and aggravates an old knee injury that has already required surgery once, bringing the audition (and possibly Paul's career) to a screeching halt.
  • Movie Bonus Song: "Surprise, Surprise" (Academy Award nominated) replaced "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" and the montage, while "Let Me Dance for You" replaced "The Music and the Mirror". "What I Did for Love" is changed into a solo by Cassie in the film as well.
  • The Musical Musical: A Chorus Line is a musical about an assortment of dancers at various stages of their career trajectories - some just starting out, some already on the decline - auditioning for the chorus line in a Broadway musical.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Although the setting backstage at the auditions for the chorus line of a Broadway musical might seem to lend itself to mostly diegetic music, "One" is the only diegetic number, with the other songs falling under either Alternate Universe or All In Their Heads.
  • 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? Most of them 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 is 32, but has been able to pass for less than half that in previous productions (being under five feet tall helps).
  • Old Maid: Exaggerated. Sheila's father told her mother she was one, despite her only being 22.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Mark bemoans that, after just "one little fart," he got nicknamed "Stinky" for three years of high school.
  • Opening Chorus: Although, strictly speaking, the opening number is an instrumental over which Zach is drilling the dancers at the audition, it leads into the opening chorus proper, "I Hope I Get It", as the dancers express their anxieties over the audition in song.
  • Our Acts Are Different: The original production was two hours long with no intermission. Some revivals insert an intermission after "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love," sometimes justified in-universe as Zach giving the dancers a break in real time.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: As revealed in the montage, Sheila's father may have been a serial philanderer, but he still had sex with his wife even after Sheila was born — as she found out the hard way when she accidentally walked in on them "doing it".
  • Practice Kiss: In the montage, Judy reveals that she and her best girl friend, Leslie, tried a few practice kisses on each other so that they'd be ready when they had to kiss boys for the first time. At first, none of the other female dancers will admit to having done the same, but finally, both Kristine and Sheila confess that they had some "kissing practice" with female friends.
  • Raging Stiffie: Greg, Mike, and Bobby's contributions to "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" include their embarrassment at getting these at the worst possible times throughout high school, including seemingly every time Greg so much as looked at a school bus.
  • Refrain from Assuming: invoked 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, with most cast as "themselves"; the dialogue includes numerous verbatim quotes from the interviewees. Going down the line:
    • Don's personality came from his original actor, Ron Kuhlman; Andy Bew was a model for his "type" of performer, while the stripper anecdote came from Michael Bennett.
    • Maggie was partly based on her original actress, Kay Cole, while the "Indian chief" anecdote came from Donna McKechnie.
    • Mike's confidence was based on his original actor, Wayne Cilento, while the story of "I Can Do That" was based on Sammy Williams, the original Paul.
    • Connie's level of experience and personality were inspired by her original actress, Baayork Lee.note 
    • Greg's Large Ham personality was based on his original actor, Michael Stuart, while his passion for clothes came from Chris Chadman.note 
    • Cassie was based partly on her original actress, Donna McKechnie, and partly on Leland Palmer, who had a romantic history with Michael Bennett.note 
    • Sheila's childhood - mother who abandoned her dancing dreams for an unhappy marriage and then pushed dancing on her daughter - came from her original actress, Kelly Bishop.
    • Bobby was based on his original actor, Thommie Walsh, whose stand-up routines provided such gags as the redundancy of committing suicide in Buffalo and his "crime spree" of breaking into people's houses and re-arranging their furniture instead of stealing things.
    • Bebe was partly based on her original actress, Nancy Lane, but more on Michon Peacock, who shared her unhappy childhood and insecurities about her appearance and ability.note 
    • Judy was based on a combination of Patricia Garland, her original actress, and Garland's sister Jacki; the Garlands also provided the "steep, narrow staircase" anecdote for "At the Ballet".
    • Richie's enthusiasm bordering on hyperactivity was based on a combination of Ron Denis, his original actor, and Candy Brown, who supplied the plot thread of the aborted plan to pursue an education degree.
    • Al and Kristine were based partly on their original actors, Don Percassi and Renee Baughman (who genuinely could not sing on key), and partly on married choreographers Steven Boockvor and Denise Pence Boockvor.
    • Val was based largely on her original actress, Pamela Blair, who shared her small town Vermont background and dreams of being a Rockette, while her career-boosting cosmetic surgery was based on Mitzi Hamilton.note 
    • Mark was partly based on his original actor, Cameron "Rick" Mason, although the gonorrhoea anecdote came from Michael Bennett's life.
    • Paul was based not on his original actor, Sammy Williams, but on co-author Nicholas Dante, a Puerto Rican (born Conrado Morales) with an Italian stage name who also performed in a drag revue and felt a whirlwind of conflicting emotions when his family found out and his father still referred to him as "my son".note 
    • Diana was based on her original actress, Priscilla Lopez, a High School of Performing Arts alumna who struggled with a tyrannical acting teacher.
    • Zach is loosely based on Michael Bennett, although he put more of his story into the various dancers. Larry, meanwhile, is based on Bennett's assistant, Bob Avian.
    • Among the dancers cut in the first round, Frank ("Headband") is based on his original actor, Michael Serrecchia, whose childhood case of polio meant that he struggled not to look at his feet while he danced.
  • 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: In "Nothing", Diana Morales tells the story of Mr. Karp, her high school acting teacher. She recalls him berating her in front of the rest of the class for being unable to get into the improv exercises he assigned them, in which she claimed to feel "nothing", hence the title of the song. And "nothing" turns out to be what she felt when she heard that Mr. Karp died a few months after she transferred into another acting class.
  • Sentimental Music Cue: An instrumental version of the melody for "I Really Need This Job"/"Who Am I Anyway?" from "I Hope I Get It" is used to underscore some of the more emotionally powerful moments in the characters' monologues.
  • Setting Update: The original script is set in the 1970s, when the economic recession meant that many Broadway theatres were sitting empty and performers were desperate for any work they could get, even an anonymous face in a chorus. Revivals sometimes replace references to stage and screen performers of the 1970s with those more familiar to modern audiences.note  The 1985 film adaptation updates the setting by ten years, as a marquee for the original production of Glengarry Glen Ross advertising its 1984 Pulitzer Prize win is seen in exterior shots, while the score does away with "wah-wah" guitars in favour of synthesisers and drum machines.
  • Sexiness Score: In the song "Dance: Ten Looks: Three", Val describes the typical producer's reaction when she went to an audition. They always ranked her dancing abilities very high and her personal appearance very low.
  • Shaped Like Itself: From "One":
    "She walks into a room and you know she's uncommonly rare, very unique."
  • Shout-Out: "One" is meant to be an homage to the kind of number that composer Jerry Herman had in his shows Theatre/Mame and Hello, Dolly!...a catchy chorus number where the backup chorus sings about how awesome the female lead is.
  • Show Within a Show: The main characters are auditioning for the chorus line in an unnamed musical with a prominent but also unnamed (and unseen) female lead; "One" serves the dual purpose of being a show-stopper for both the in-universe musical and A Chorus Line itself.
  • Snark Knight: Bobby.
    "...but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant."
  • Stage Names: In-universe, several of the dancers have changed their names for professional reasons. Mike Costafalone has trimmed his name down to Mike Costa, Sara Rosemary Bryant now goes by Sheila Bryant, Sidney Kenneth Beckenstein AKA Rochmel Lev ben Yokov Meyer Beckenstein uses the more marquee-friendly Gregory Gardner, Margaret Mary Houlihan has chosen the name Valerie Clark, Mark Philip Lawrence Tabori goes by Mark Anthony, and Ephrain Ramirez is professionally known as Paul San Marco. Bebe Benzenheimer acknowledges that she'll need to adopt a stage name at some point, and Judy Turner snarks that she was born Lana Turner before admitting that she's always been Judy Turner.
  • Stripperiffic: Well, everyone is dressed to move, but Val wears essentially a two piece bikini. After all, she's showing off "tits and ass".
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: "Dance Ten, Looks Three" may focus more on Val's breast augmentation, but she is just as proud of her gluteal implants, hence the recurring line (and the song's working title) "Tits and ass".
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • The dancers who are cut in the opening scene are nearly always played by understudies for the seventeen main cast members, so they need to be able to dance at their level, but they also have to make it believable that they wouldn't make the later rounds. In some productions, it can be very obvious that they are deliberately dancing badly instead of simply lacking in technical chops or experience, particularly in the cases of Vicki (the dancer who admits to having no ballet training, prompting Zach to order her out of the lineup), Roy (the dancer who keeps getting his arms in the wrong position), and Frank (the dancer with the headband who keeps looking at his feet). Depending on the production, they may return for the finale, and they dance as well as the regulars.
    • Depending on the performer, the technical errors committed by the dancers who do make the first cut during "I Hope I Get It" - Diana "dancing with her tongue" and stumbling out of a turn during the ballet combination, Sheila's performance of the jazz combination fizzling out when she is made to swap places with Val to keep the latter in formation, and Richie getting overenthusiastic and rushing to the front of the stage before Zach tells his group to start over - can either look believably accidental or obviously deliberate and/or hammed up.
    • The first rendition of "One" has the dancers having to pretend to not know the lyrics and moves well enough to do it in sync — and then they remind themselves of their moves.
  • 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 (not least as the surgery would pay for itself with the jobs it enabled the patient to get). 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."note 
  • 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.
  • Unknown Character: The subject of "One," who is presumably the star of the musical for which the dancers are auditioning. Zach emphasizes how the ensemble must accentuate this character and sing her praises without detracting from her stage presence, but we are never given any inkling of who she is or what the musical is about, other than the vague lyrics about just how important she is in the world of the play. She also never shows up during the finale when the ensemble actually sings "One." This is purposeful, of course, for the sake of irony — this main character is given the faceless treatment that the dancers will be given in the in-universe play.
  • The Un-Favourite: Mike is the youngest of twelve children, and he recalls in "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" that his parents were outraged when he announced that he was dropping out of high school to become "a chorus boy", comparing him unfavourably to his older brother who is in medical school.
  • Western Zodiac: Before Zach tells her to stop putting on a performance instead of simply being herself, Sheila tries to justify her sass by saying she's a Leo (traditionally held to be dramatic, courageous, arrogant, and charismatic).
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: 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 in the film, 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 after dropping out of high school. Believing his parents would be ashamed of him, he avoided telling them until they unexpectedly showed up at a performance to drop off his luggage for a tour - and was left even more conflicted when he still heard his father tell the producer, "Take care of my son."
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: At 20, Mark is the youngest of the seventeen dancers to make the final audition, and he is very eager to please, telling Zach that "if I get this job, I'll work really hard!", prompting groans of disgust from several of the older and more world-weary dancers, who have heard (and possibly, in their own younger days, given) similar speeches dozens of times. In the film, they grin and chuckle knowingly, especially the 30 year old Sheila. When he asks about how many people are being hired in the film:
    Larry: Four and four.note 
    Mark: (incredulous) Forty-four?!note 
  • Worth It: "What I Did for Love" sees Diana, followed by the other dancers, declaring that all the struggle and strife they've gone through trying to make it as dancers was worth it, as dancing is what they love (and they'd rather not face the question of what will happen when they're no longer able to dance).
  • Younger Than They Look: When Don was 15, he was able to pass for older, so he lied about his age to secure a membership with AGVA (the American Guild of Variety Artists) and get a job at a strip club, where he performed tapdance numbers between performances by a stripper named Lola LaTores - with whom he became intimately involved until he found out she was seeing someone else.