Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Chorus Line was a milestone in the history of the Broadway stage, both in the way it was developed and in its subject matter. The production grew organically from a series of tape-recorded conversations of musical comedy gypsies, dancers who went from show to show performing only in the chorus. Developed from a concept and virtually without plot, A Chorus Line is a tribute to these dancers. Michael Bennett began his career dancing in the line and went on to make his name as a choreographer. It was his brilliant conception that brought A Chorus Line to fruition.

As for subject matter, topics that are never more than subtext are dealt with openly, the glory and the terror of life as a gypsy are laid bare, and the performers are shown as both sympathetic and heroic. The theater is depicted as a place of escape for those who are different, a place where it is possible for those who have never fit in to find a home.

The unconventional method of putting the show together is part of the mythology surrounding the long-running musical. While Bennett conceptualized the story, James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante wrote the book for the play. The legendary director and producer Joseph Papp provided the time and space for the lengthy rehearsal period that allowed Bennett to develop the project. Although it was an ensemble piece and a true group endeavor, it was Bennett’s vision that brought a new form of musical theater to the Broadway stage. After breaking existing records and becoming, for a time, the longest-running show in Broadway history, A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize in drama and went on to run for more than six thousand performances.