How A Chorus Line’s “Gimme the Ball” Came to Be

Seth Rudetsky   How A Chorus Line’s “Gimme the Ball” Came to Be
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares A Chorus Line secrets from an original cast member, plus the time an audience member heckled Melissa Errico.
Ronald Dennis and cast
Ronald Dennis and cast Martha Swope/©NYPL for the Performing Arts

Hello from lovely Provincetown! I’m, as usual, on the porch of the Anchor Inn. Saturday was so crazily cold. Seriously! Look how gray and dreary.

A gray day in Provincetown, Massachusetts
A gray day in Provincetown, Massachusetts Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

Today: sunny and beautiful. Here’s the view from my balcony to the Pilgrim Monument. Love it!

A sunny day in Provincetown, Massachusetts
A sunny day in Provincetown, Massachusetts Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

This weekend I did two shows with Melissa Errico. Holy cow, she’s talented. Mark Cortale, who produces these shows for me all over the country, said it was one of the best shows he’s seen ever.

You know I love belters and I was devastated to hear that when she was a child she was not allowed to belt. Apparently, it was bad for your voice and unpleasant to listen to. She said there were two dirty words in her house: Ethel and Merman. Maybe that’s why she figured out how to make her voice sound the same wherever it is. Her voice has no break. It’s basically one sound wherever she’s singing. And, P.S., she’s fun-nee. She told us that when she was young she did a Rockette-style kickline in a local kids show. Everyone had to have kicks the exact same height. Well, right before she went on, her mother whispered to her “Kick the highest!” Hence this photo (with her dead center):

Melissa Errico
Melissa Errico Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

One of the shows she was in, that I loved, was based on the French musical Le Passe Muraille. The powers-that-be were told to change the name of the show and they were warned that Americans only know two French words; one of them is croissant and, therefore, the other word became the title of the show… Amour. Melissa told us that during tech, the boulengerie set completely fell forward. I asked how far it went and she pointed to a man in the front row and said, “You wouldn’t have made it.” I loved Amour when I saw it on Broadway and she sang one of my favorite songs called “Other People’s Stories.” In the song, her character sings about meeting her husband when she was 17 and then being in a loveless marriage for many years. Melissa was around 30 when she played the part. Well, she sang it while sitting at the front of the stage and these are the lyrics to one section:

“You won’t find my story in a magazine.
A young girl from a convent all of 17.
Then she met a suitor his beard was all of grey
Imagine her reaction…dismay!”

In other words, she was 17 when she met him and now many years have passed.

Well, one night she was sitting at the edge of the stage as usual and when she got to the lyric “A young girl from a convent all of 17” a man right in front of her looked at her judgmentally and let out a big “HA!” Of course, she was so close to the audience that his “HA” was picked up by her body mic and broadcast across the theatre. She glared and emphasized “THEN she met a suitor….”
It’s such a great song. Click here to listen.

We were going through her various past shows and, at one point, she described a scene she did in the Broadway musical Dracula. In the middle of the night, she realizes her best friend (Kelli O’Hara) is missing so she goes to search for her. It’s supposed to be 2 AM, so she’s wearing a nightgown in bed. She starts to search for Kelli a few minutes later and is suddenly wearing a stunning red velvet dress and a hat with a beautiful feather because she just “threw something on.”

Speaking of the past, last week was the anniversary of A Chorus Line opening on Broadway. I deconstructed “At The Ballet” a few years ago and it was passed around the various Chorus Line alum.

The original Sheila, Kelly Bishop, sent it to Ronald Dennis, the original Richie. He listens to me on SiriusXM and emailed me because he knew I would love to hear some inside scoop on A Chorus Line or “ACL” (as he calls it) and Michael Bennett (or “M.B.”). Here are some of the highlights from the email he sent me:

I came to “ACL” by default for the very last workshop of the show before we went to the Neuman at the Public Theater.
Candy Brown [is] one my few other very long time known and close girlfriend... (Candy and I met doing Hello, Dolly with Pearl Bailey), which is another story unto itself ‘Chile!’
Candy had worked for Bob Fosse, in Liza With A ‘Z, Pippin, and she was offered Chicago which was going into production at the same time as Chorus Line. Candy joined Chicago because, as she has told me, “Chicago was a sure thing!” I had auditioned for Michael Bennett several times over the years leading up to being hired for Chorus Line. I went in to audition for any role that might be open and Baayork Lee (the original Connie and Michael’s assistant) told me that after my audition Michael turned to her and said: “But the part calls for Candy’s story!” and Baayork asked him, “Why does it have to be a girl? You’ve always liked Ron!” And I got it.

Except this…
Baayork and I had a song that we shared called “Confidence” right at the beginning of the show. We sang it for the very first audience invited run-through.
Baayork was on the line at the very same position that she remained on throughout and I was next to Trish Garland (who played Judy Turner).
I would look down the line in Connie’s direction [and sing]:

I’m sure that Connie thinks she’s got it.
But she’s wrong if only she could spot it, I have got that special quality
Confidence, Confidence,
It’s written plain all over and will remain all over me!

After that first run-through, the opinion from Michael’s invited friends, actors and regular civilians, and our producers, was that opening the show with “Confidence” being the first song out of the box was just “too musical comedy!” It was….not that I felt that way 39 years ago.

It was no LOL moment for me, while I watched everyone have their moment in the sun, or a song being created, rehearsed, and showcased. Looking back now, I do believe that M.B. was doing one of his director manipulating things by ignoring me while working on all the other things that was filling his amazing mind, pushing my ‘black jones’ flame up to high.

I’ve told people I was so pissed during the rehearsal period that my jaw was so tight I could have been the lone black face on Mt. Rushmore!

Mind you, I was not going to let my pissed off’ness get me fired like what had occurred to so many during that last workshop.

I did what I was told and did it well, too. Lo and behold, about 2 weeks before we were to open at the Neuman, M.B., comes to me just before lunchtime and says that he needs to see me in the rehearsal room at lunchtime. I’m thinking, ‘Oh sh*t’ now what?’ I get there and find Michael was there along with Fran Liebergell and Bobby Thomas, our drummer.

Michael, proceeds to sing what became “Gimme The Ball” in his bad singing voice, sounding like a Joe Cocker needing some serious auto-tune.

Basically, it was all about the cadence of the song that Michael heard in his head. Fran, Bobby, and I came up with a very rough version of Michael’s wishes, who at the end turns to me and says, “Here, go home and make something out of this!” Gobsmacked, but not one to back down on an order or a challenge, I got home, retreated to my bedroom and channeled the muse of ‘Aretha Franklin’ as my inspiration. I never did find out why Marvin did not write a song for me. Sadly, I signed away all royalty rights in our original contract, being naive and not knowing anything about asking for writing credit or payment. SIGH Hindsight! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Oy!

The rest is history. A CHORUS LINE was truly an amazing, amazing, amazing experience and career high. Each and every night during the end of “ONE” number finale, the audiences who leap to their feet en masse just like they would when Donna ended “Music In The Mirror.”

Last year when my ‘ACL’ family, did the “One” number for the Public Theater celebration, the very same thing happened with the audience at the Delacorte. AMAZING! And heart-warming beyond words. Melissa Manchester was quoted later saying that singing after us was like being the after dinner mint. LOL

Here he is doing it during the original run at the Public! He starts around seven minutes in. Click here and watch his incredible energy!! And his double pirouette right before the last “scared!!!!!”

Also, you can enter to win a copy of the newly remastered edition of A Chorus Line on vinyl here.

OK! I’m off to Cotuit for a show with Megan Hilty and then one more in Provincetown next Sunday. Until my next column, peace out!

You can also catch Seth on Playbill Travel’s upcoming Broadway on the Rhine River cruise August 13–20, 2017 and Broadway on the Danube River with Michael Feinstein November 3–13, 2017. As music director and onboard MC, he will be joined in August by two-time Tony winner Faith Prince, Drama Desk winner Andréa Burns, three-time Tony nominee Terrence Mann, two-time Tony nominee Charlotte d’Amboise, and Tony nominee Santino Fontana. In November, stars include Drama Desk nominee Julia Murney, and Tony nominees Christopher Fitzgerald, Brandon Uranowitz, Christopher Sieber, Marc Kudisch, with more talent to be announced.

Visit PlaybillTravel.com, call Judy Perl Worldwide Travel (844-561-3625) or email playbill@judyperltravel.com for inquiries and booking. Cabins and suites are limited due to the intimate scale of the S.S. Antoinette.

About Playbill Travel:
Playbill Travel operates the premier vacation programs for discerning travelers with a shared love of exotic locales and the theatre. The Broadway on the High Seas series has become a hit with hundreds of theatre-loving travelers since its inaugural voyage in September of 2011. Entertainers aboard Broadway on the High Seas and its sister resort program, Broadway By The Sea, have included Patti LuPone, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Christine Ebersole,Tommy Tune, Andrea Martin, Ana Gasteyer, Megan Hilty, Lewis Black, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti and others. Since its inception in 2011, over 1,000 Playbill travelers have visited over a dozen countries including Italy, Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Poland, Germany, French Polynesia, Vietnam and beyond!

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