By PAM HARBAUGH
In choosing Mitzi Hamilton to direct and choreograph its upcoming production of “A Chorus Line,” Riverside Theatre takes a page from the celebrated history of the Tony Award winning show.
You see, Ms. Hamilton is not only a true Broadway veteran, but one of the original performers in the musical’s legendary taped sessions which gave birth to “A Chorus Line.” Later, Ms. Hamilton performed in the show both on Broadway and in London for more than 10 years.
Here’s the “backstory,” if you will:
“A Chorus Line” began as an idea. Dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens invited dancers, including Ms. Hamilton, to sessions to share their experiences at auditioning and performing. Wisely, they taped those sessions. Eventually, they invited the late great choreographer Michael Bennett to join them. Mr. Bennett put some shape onto the proceedings and brought the project to The Public Theater in lower Manhattan. The Public borrowed $1.6 million to mount its production, which opened April 15, 1975. There was such a buzz that the entire run at The Public sold out before it even opened.
Three months later, it opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre and ran until April 1990. It held the record as longest running Broadway musical until “Cats” came along.Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s a fun little Q and A with Ms. Hamilton and Oscar Sales, the marketing director at Riverside Theatre:
Q – How long were you in the original run of “A Chorus Line”?
A – I was in the original taped sessions with Michael Bennett, which “A Chorus Line” is based on, but I was not in the original production. I did the London production in 1976 for 6 months, and then went to the Broadway production and was at the Shubert Theatre in NYC for almost 10 years!
Q – How was the developmental process for “A Chorus Line?”
A – Michael Bennett did two workshops to create the show, which was innovative at the time to work this way. I was not part of the workshop so all I know is from what I’ve read or heard. Of course all the stories came first (from the taped sessions) and then the composers Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban wrote the music and lyrics based on our stories.
Q – “A Chorus Line” was not your first Broadway show, was it?
A – No, at that time I had been in six Broadway shows up to that point, “A Chorus Line” was my seventh, and then I did one afterwards, “King of Hearts.”
Q – When did you know you wanted to choreograph and direct?
A – Well, I was assisting a director/choreographer with a production of “A Chorus Line” that was going to tour Europe but he was too ill to go, so the producer asked me if I could put the show together, and I said yes, and so I did. It basically fell into my lap. Although, I don’t think things fall into one’s lap for no reason. I believe I was meant to do this.
Q – Do you use any of the original choreography in the show?
A – Yes, I recreate Michael Bennett’s original choreography, as it is seamless and very appropriate for the piece. I will sometimes adjust to a dancer in a solo section to show off their best as Michael did with us all. And to me, I feel “A Chorus Line” is a classic piece of theatre and should be preserved for future young audiences. It’s like a great ballet, you just don’t mess with genius!
Q – What would you like Vero Beach audiences to experience in this production?
A – “A Chorus Line” has a universal appeal, in that people from all walks of life can relate to the characters and their needs to live their dream. We are all ‘on the line’ at some time or other in our lives, and we all have to pay our dues. But I hope they will also experience that we are all part of a great team, the human race.
“A Chorus Line” runs Jan. 5 to 24 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive., Vero Beach. Tickets begin at $35. Call 772-231-6990 or visit RiversideTheatre.com. The easiest thing to do, of course, is to click onto Riverside’s ad on the right side of this page.