“A 5, 6, 7, 8!”
Surely, every dancer has heard those numbers counted off thousands of times, but there’s arguably no more iconic of a count-off than that from Michael Bennett’s masterpiece, A Chorus Line.
The original cast of A Chorus Line on the 1976 Tony® Awards. *At the 1:30 mark, find the iconic "A 5, 6, 7, 8!"
The remarkable musical celebrates a new, limited engagement revival this week at New York City Center, an institution here in the big apple dedicated to the preservation and celebration of both dance and theatre. City Center, commemorating its 75th anniversary, kicks off the weeklong observance with the November 14th gala and runs the production through Sunday.
“In 1975, the stories of seventeen Broadway dancers sprang to life when A Chorus Line opened Off-Broadway,” City Center’s website says. “Born of workshop sessions with actual Broadway dancers (eight of whom appeared in the original cast), the musical turned the spotlight on the anonymous, sparkling workhorses of the ensemble. The scrutiny of the audition room gives way to the intimacy of a confessional as—one by one—the usually overlooked cogs in the machine step forward to divulge why their lives are singular and sensational.”
The original Broadway production of A Chorus Line opened in 1975 and ran for 6,137 performances. It was the longest running Broadway musical of all time until it was surpassed by Cats in 1997. The emblematic musical has enjoyed worldwide success, including robust runs on London’s West End, productions in Australia, Spain, Italy, Austria, and a successful Broadway revival in 2006.
“It’s not only about dancers.” Baayork Lee, original Broadway cast member who, along with original co-choreographer Bob Avian, helms the City Center production, told Dance Network. “Michael [Bennett] was so brilliant— to use the audition process to get us all together— but the stories, are just people.”
Lee, who was a close friend and colleague of Bennett throughout his career, was honored last week at the Actor’s Fund’s Career Transitions For Dancers gala. Lee has spent a large portion of her impressive career not just focussed on the lasting legacy of fellow dancers, but also assisting, teaching, and introducing movement to dancers of all ages.
Baayork Lee, who created the role of Connie Wong in A Chorus Line, was awarded the 2017 Isabelle Stevenson Tony® Award for her “longstanding commitment to future generations of artists through her work with the National Asian Artists Project and theatre education programs around the world."
“Being back in the room with Baayork and Bob has been a trip,” Jay Armstrong Johnson who plays the role of Bobby in the City Center production told Dance Network. “This is my third go at A Chorus Line. The first being when I got my equity card playing Mark in a production in my hometown, the second being the 1st National Revival Tour as Mark in 2008, and now playing Bobby a decade later.”
The role of Bobby was originated by the late actor, dancer, director, and choreographer, Thomas J. Walsh. Walsh went on to win two Tony® awards, both for his choreography; first in 1980 for A Day In Hollywood/A Night In The Ukraine and later, in 1983’s My One And Only.
“Bobby was always the role I coveted while playing Mark, and I guess deep down I knew I’d one day get the chance to play it,” Johnson said. “If there’s anything I relate to Bobby on, it would be putting on garage recitals. I was always recruiting my little cousins to help me put-on living room shows for my family at special occasions. For a boy in Texas in the nineties, one might say I was ‘real, real strange.’”
The cast of City Center’s A Chorus Line in rehearsal. Video courtesy of City Center
Johnson, who’s no stranger to Broadway, having been seen in Hair, Catch Me If You Can, Hands On A Hard Body, On The Town, and most recently as Raoul in Phantom Of The Opera understands both the role City Center and A Chorus Line have played in Broadway’s history.
“City Center Encores is always a sought-after job in our business, and I feel lucky to be back on the stage celebrating such a milestone,” Johnson said. “It’s flashing me back to my younger self just breaking into the business. I look down the line at David Grindrod playing Mark, and it’s like watching a younger version of myself. This cast is stellar, the piece is iconic, and I’m honored to be doing a first-class production here in New York City.”
For more on City Center's production of A Chorus Line, visit their website here.
The cast of A Chorus Line includes: Jay Armstrong Johnson (Bobby), Kate Bailey (Kristine), Callan Bergmann (Frank), Natalie Bourgeois (Lois), Tommy Bracco (Mike), Wesley Ian Cappiello (Roy), Max Clayton (Don), Aaron Patrick Craven (Butch), Francine Espiritu, Sara Esty (Maggie), Joseph Fierberg, Emily Franch (Vicki), David Grindrod (Mark), Eddie Gutierrez (Paul), Robyn Hurder (Cassie), Jolina Javier (Connie), Tara Kostmayer(Diana), Denis Lambert (Greg), J. Elaine Marcos (Val), Melanie Moore (Judy), Jenna Nicole Schoen (Tricia), Joseph J. Simeone (Al), Ahmad Simmons (Tom), Ryan Steele (Larry), Naomi C. Walley (Bebe), Anthony Wayne (Richie), Tony Yazbeck (Zach), and Leigh Zimmerman (Sheila).
Michael Mahany serves as the New York City Correspondent for Dance Network. He is also a professional actor, musician, dancer, and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or click here to find out more.