Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
First and foremost, A Chorus Line is about young people with dreams of escaping their sometimes ordinary, sometimes painful lives and trading them for the unique world of the Broadway stage. Unlike traditional backstage dramas, with their focus on stars and understudies, A Chorus Line focuses on the “worker bees” of the business. These characters are not looking for stardom; they are looking to be part of the background. They are looking for work, a temporary home, and a place to fit in.
A Chorus Line is a brutally honest portrait of anonymous, interchangeable dancers. From the opening number in which they singly and collectively declare their desperation for the job, their insecurity and fragility are on display. The audience voyeuristically watches as the director moves them around onstage like pieces of scenery, calling them by number rather than by name. The audience is involved in hearing their stories, some bitter, some poignant. The audience shares the knowledge that this group of hopefuls will be pared down to eight lucky dancers by the evening’s end. The audience squirms as they recognize the dancers’ humiliation as they first bare their souls for a self-indulgent director and then are ruthlessly cut from the group. No truth is too personal or too ugly to be exposed onstage. The audience learns the grim realities of this lifestyle: the threat of injury, the importance of looks and sex appeal, the stigma of homosexuality, the threat of unemployment, the lack of security, the fear of failure, and the never-ending need to audition. These realities form the harsh world of the theater, stripped of its glamour and glitz. Thus, when the glitz and glamour are proudly displayed in the show’s finale, the audience feels the sadness below the surface. Most of those who come to audition do not make it, and those who do are once again nameless, faceless, beautifully-but-identically-costumed drones.
A Chorus Line showcases those who are never showcased: the background players, the extras, the young hopefuls who put themselves on the line for the dream of performing on Broadway. In doing so, the play gives them their due and gives audiences a vibrant portrait of the harsh reality of the life of these modern-day gypsies.