On July 25, 1975, theatre producer Joe Papp moved the musical A CHORUS LINE from its off-Broadway birthplace at the New York Public Theatre to the Shubert Theatre on Broadway, and in so doing rewrote the history of the American musical with a show that became at that moment, with 6,137 performances, the longest-running musical in the history of the American theater.
This week the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is opening A CHORUS LINE in Moe and Jack’s Place – The Rouse Theatre, a new theatre space and the result of a $5 million lead gift from Cincinnati cultural patrons Jack and Moe Rouse.
The Rouse Theatre is the centerpiece of a $50 million mainstage theatre complex, and the only brand-new theatre facility opening in the United States in 2023. The state-of-the-art facility enhances the Playhouse’s artistic and technical capabilities.
The story of a group of dancers auditioning for a new show and putting themselves on the line has music by Marvin Hamlisch that combines traditional musical theater ballads (“What I did for love”) with song-and-dance numbers (“I can do that” … “One”) and with specialty dance numbers (“I hope I get it”).
For the original Broadway production choreographer-director Michael Bennett had costume designer Theoni V. Aldridge dress the cast of the show in rehearsal clothes, capping it with glitzy outfits for the show’s finale. There was no set, just a bare stage that designer Robin Wagner surrounded with a rear wall dance-studio mirrors that created the illusion of a multitude of dancers peopling the stage. There were no props. There was very subtle lighting by Tharon Musser, using computerized dimmers for the first time on Broadway history. The show was born in a workshop in the New York Public Theatre, no longer undergoing an out-of-town tryout and thus creating a new pattern for the future of musicals.
What appeared to be a collection of liabilities: no stars, no set, no showbiz razmataz became the show’s assets, earning for it twelve Tony Award nominations, and winning nine, including BEST MUSICAL, in addition to the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park production is freshly re-imagined and directed by Producing Artistic Director Blake Robison, choreographed by Alex Sanchez, designed by Tim Mackabee (set), Kathleen Geldard (costumes), Jaymi Lee Smith (Lighting), and David Bullard (sound). Andrew Smithson is the Music Director, Conductor and Orchestral Arranger.
On a personal note: in 1975 I was a hopeful stage director working for Joe Papp and Gail Merrifield in the Literary Department of the New York Public Theatre. My wife, Kimberly – also an aspiring theatre artist – and I were in the audience of the Broadway opening night of A CHORUS LINE. I still remember the emotion felt by the audience that night in a theatre full of theatre people as the cast of the show half-sung the lines: “Oh God, I need this job…” an “I hope I get it!” Now, nearly a half-century later, those lines still resonate for many of us.
Rafael de Acha © 2023
Rafael de Acha was born and grew up in Cuba. At the age of 17 he moved to the United States to study Drama at the University of Minnesota, Languages at L.A. City College, Music at the Juilliard School of Music, at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, and at the New England Conservatory of Music, from which he received the master’s degree. He has taught courses on the History of Music at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and at Florida International University and contributed writings and reviews to several publications, including his blog: https://wordpress.com/posts/allabouttheartscoms.com.
He co-founded the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he produced and staged twenty seasons of classical and contemporary theater. In 2006 he was presented with a citation from The Dade County Cultural Affairs Council for “Trailblazing contributions to the arts in South Florida.”
Leave a Reply