The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

A Chorus Line is both a celebration of and a tribute to the unheralded men and women known as gypsies, who make up the chorus lines of Broadway musicals. The show opens as twenty-four young hopefuls learn the dance routine that they will use in the final audition for a new Broadway production. As the lights come up, Zach, the choreographer and director, is teaching a jazz combination, followed by a ballet combination. Identifying dancers only by their numbers, Zach puts the dancers into groups to perform. He watches as they dance and sing “I Hope I Get It,” a musical number that reflects their insecurity and desperation. The number ends with all the dancers lined up holding eight-by-ten glossy photographs in front of their faces.

As Larry collects the pictures and résumés, Zach begins questioning the individual dancers. They are asked to step forward and give their names, ages, and birthplaces, which they do with varying attitudes. As the last one finishes, Zach’s questions become more pointed. The audition becomes a performance interview, with each dancer given the opportunity to show his or her personality.

Mike’s audition is first. In his musical number, “I Can Do That,” he reveals that he began dancing at the age of four by watching his sister practice. When she refused to attend her lesson one day, he put on her shoes, stuffed with extra socks to make them fit, and ran all the way to her class to take her place. He has been dancing ever since.

As Bobby recites an exaggerated litany of family dysfunction, other cast members sing “And . . .,” in which they struggle to come up with something interesting to say when it is their turn to reveal themselves to Zach.

Next to take center stage is Sheila. She describes how dancing became her escape from an unhappy home life with a philandering father and a submissive mother, who transferred her unfulfilled dream of being a dancer to her daughter. In the musical number, “At the Ballet,” Sheila describes being happy attending dance classes and dance performances. Bebe joins Sheila in the second verse of the song and shares her own troubled history with a...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Many dramatic devices set A Chorus Line apart from traditional Broadway musicals. It is an ensemble piece with no stars or leading roles. Zach, as the director-choreographer, is merely the facilitator, who unemotionally manipulates those who have come seeking a place in his performance. Cassie, Zach’s former girlfriend, works hard not to stand out so that she can return to the chorus and rebuild her life.

The production is staged on an almost bare, black stage with a white line painted across the floor. This line serves a physical as well as a metaphorical purpose: The dancers use it to line up and form a straight line, and Zach uses it metaphorically to force the dancers to toe the line, to put themselves on the line, and, finally, to cross the line into success or failure. The black background shifts to mirrors at critical points, including the show’s finale, when the mirrors create the illusion that the identical dancers continue into infinity. The actors are the set pieces whose arrangement shifts and changes as the individual stories unfold.

A particularly unique feature of the staging is the use of the entire theater, not simply the stage. The director, Zach, comes down from the stage and speaks from the aisles or from his desk at the back of the theater. This technique places the audience between him and the other performers and makes the audience complicit both in the demands he makes on the fragile hopefuls and in the elimination of more than half the dancers from the final cast.

The show has little dialogue. Information about the characters is delivered in a complex tapestry of monologue, musical lyrics, and movement. Indeed, movement in the show seems almost continuous, with even the solos performed while activity continues in the background. Only Cassie, who tried to break out of the chorus and failed, sings and dances alone onstage. Once her colleagues return, however, she pulls back and dances like everyone else, reinforcing the thematic element of the dancers being interchangeable cogs in the Broadway musical machine.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Flinn, Denny Martin. What They Did for Love: The Untold Story Behind the Making of “A Chorus Line.” New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

Kirkwood, James, et al. “A Chorus Line”: The Book of the Musical. New York: Applause Books, 1995.

Mandelbaum, Ken. “A Chorus Line” and the Musicals of Michael Bennett. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

Stevens, Gary, and Alan George. The Longest Line: Broadway’s Most Singular Sensation—“A Chorus Line.” New York: Applause Books, 1998.

Viagas, Robert, et al. On the Line: The Creation of “A Chorus Line.” New York: William Morrow, 1990.