Original Chorus Line Cast Remembers Sweetness and Sorrow of The Broadway Sensation

News   Original Chorus Line Cast Remembers Sweetness and Sorrow of The Broadway Sensation
 
In anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the opening of A Chorus Line Off-Broadway at the Public Theater April 16, Playbill.com reached out to the cast of the original Broadway production, who shared their memories from rehearsals to performance, including a special tribute to composer Marvin Hamlisch, who died Aug. 6, 2012.

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Baayork Lee
Baayork Lee

Baayork Lee, "Connie Wong" and original Dance Captain

Proudest Personal Achievement of the Past 40 Years:
My proudest personal achievement I believe is when I formed the company National Asian Artists Project (NAAP) with Steven Eng and Zoie Lam. The results have gone way beyond my dream. Not only do we provide a platform for Asian actors to perform non traditional roles, we are introducing theater to PS124, Theater Club, after school program(40 members), provide a Sing-A-Long workshop for Seniors in Chinatown, and give a weekly opportunity for our 45 adult membership to sing in the NAAP Broadway Community Chorus.

Most Vivid Memory of Working With Marvin Hamlisch:
Marvin being in London when I was directing a (English actors) Tel Aviv company of ACL. He had just finished a concert at Albert Hall and early the next morning he came on a one-hour drive to the Sound Studios we were rehearsing. He watched the entire run-thru taking copious notes and met the cast and orchestra. He gave background on why numbers were written and why they needed to be sung or played with his intention. We all learned ACL history that day.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?:
I have been blessed to have been involved from day one till the present with the show. When I was first given the assignment to maintain the quality and integrity of the show, I ran it like my father's Chinese restaurant. Nothing changed and all was intact. In 2006 Bob Avian directed the revival on Broadway and gave me permission to be more flexible with the show and still maintain the integrity. It is always a joy to give the gift of the show to this next generation of actors and dancers. They can identify with the show and characters and make it their own.

Where Do You Keep You Costume and Other ACL Memorabilia?:
I do have my hat and shoes and they are in a closet tucked away safe!

 

Carole Schweid
Carole Schweid

Carole Schweid, understudy for "Diana" and "Bebe"

What are your proudest personal and professional achievements of the past 40 years?:
For the past 13 years, I’ve been co-producing a popular lunchtime play-reading series in Westport, Fairfield, and Greenwich, CT, called Play With Your Food. Audiences get to see one-act plays read, but rehearsed by professional actors, preceded by a buffet lunch and followed by a short discussion. On January 20, 2009, before the show, we were able to stream in President Obama’s Inauguration, so our smart suburban audience of 180 or so could share that historic moment together. I was pretty proud of that.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015:
There is no comparison. Broadway was daring, exciting and dangerous. Like the Village. It also felt like the safest place in the world. I loved being part of it.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
When I met Marvin he was the rehearsal pianist on Minnie’s Boys and I was in the chorus. He was always coming up with crazy ideas that nobody would listen to. On the day Chorus Line opened downtown, Marvin sat on the stage and made up songs from our show as if they’d been written by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim. I loved the way he talked about the process of creating a show. Sure it’s great to have a hit, but the real fun was in the creating.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?:
I am always floored by what a beautiful piece of work it is and I’m always a little annoyed that it’s always done exactly the same way. Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?:
I keep an odd collection: a NY Times photo of Johnny Dollar, doorman at the Shubert, carrying the ‘Matinee Today’ sign into Shubert Alley on the day the musician strike ended and the show could officially open; my program from Gerry Schoenfeld’s memorial; a copy of Time Magazine (maybe it was Newsweek) with Donna McKechnie on the cover; things like that. I keep my hat on a bookcase in my living room, my photo of the record-breaking performance on the wall, and small bin or two in the back of my closet with newspaper articles, front-page headlines, invitations, programs from the Tony Awards, letters, and pictures mixed in with the rest of my theatre history of opening night telegrams, headshots, a window card of Geraldine Page in The Little Foxes taken from the Falmouth Playhouse, my last pair of pointe shoes, etc. etc. .

Sammy Williams
Sammy Williams

Samuel "Sammy" Williams, "Paul"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?:
My proudest personal professional achievements in the last 40 years have to be winning the Tony Award, the Obie Award, being given a Special Theatre World Award, and winning a Robbie Award here in Los Angeles for ACL. Recently I have been doing my one-man show playing to sold-out audiences. There's nothing like standing on stage alone with an audience in the palm of your hand! It's an exhilarating feeling. I've written a play based on my experience of ACL before, during, and after. It's my true story of ACL; the Good, the Bad, and the truth as I lived it! Its intense and fabulous as it was being part of ACL.

How have Broadway and Greenwich Village changed since 1975?:
I haven't lived in the city for over 20 years so I can't really remark about the Village but there is one thing I can say about Broadway. It isn't the same. When I first came to Broadway in 1968, we had Broadway stars. Shows were not spectacles, they were shows. Today a great deal of marketing is bringing in movie and TV personalities to sell tickets. Broadway stars no longer exist. Technology has changed also so shows have become more sophisticated and "showier." The Broadway area has become more like a Disneyland adventure. Sadly, my era of Broadway is a long-gone distant memory. But we had it when it was at its best! Thank you Jesus!

Most Vivid Memory of Working with Marvin Hamlisch:
My most vivid memory working with Marvin Hamlisch has to be my audition for A Chorus Line. I was brought to Marvin's apartment by Michael Bennett to perform Paul's monologue for him. Afterward they brought me to the piano to sing. Marvin asked several questions about my musical abilities. I had very little at the time. He asked if I could sing a song if he taught it to me. I said yes. The song he taught me was "The Way We Were." I sang it for him and afterward he said good job! I got the role of Paul San Marco!

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?:
My perspective of ACL has changed very little in the last four decades. The only cast that ever performed the show the way it was supposed to be performed was the original cast. Every other cast was simply a carbon copy playing their version of the show but not the real show as we lived it! Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?:
My awards sit on top of a lovely table by a window catching the morning sun. My costume hangs in the closet and other pieces of ACL memorabilia are put away for safekeeping. My Hirschfelds hang in my hallway. I used to have my Tony Award sitting on top of the toilet. I thought at the time the award would be seen by a captive audience!

 

Nancy Lane, Bebe

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
I'm very proud of being a working TV actress for 17 years after and because of my ACL involvement. (keep those $1.32 residuals coming! LOL).

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
I remember Marvin always at the piano with Ed [Kleban] changing arrangements on the fly during rehearsals and being so generous letting Rene and me stay in his apt in Burbank when we first got to L.A. Also I recall meeting his parents and how proud they were.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
After all of the companies and HS productions we've seen, there was never any way to compare what we did, what talent we all possessed, and the sheer madness we experienced that made the original production what it was. It's like trying to reproduce a masterpiece with crayons. Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
I have my memories on the walls of my apartment and in a trunk in the garage. I have a gigantic scrapbook also in the garage which I haven't visited in a very long time. Most of my memories are shared with my boys, but I don't think they really get the enormity or the impact of it all.

Renee Baughman
Renee Baughman

Renee Baughman, "Kristine"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
Obviously doing ACL, becoming a sales manager for The Essex House and other luxury hotels, and marrying my wonderful husband Dick Wobbe.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
Moved to St. Louis in 1994 to marry so I wouldn't be the best person to make that comparison.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
I had a terrible crush on Marvin, but he only had eyes for Trish Garland.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
I appreciate more and more just how lucky I was to be part of it all!

Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
Unfortunately, I lost almost all my memorabilia in a move. Never pack all your memorabilia from an event in one carton.

 

Priscilla Lopez
Priscilla Lopez

Priscilla Lopez, "Diana Morales"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
I would have to say my proudest achievement has been my ability to continue to work in this business for the last 40 years. Creating new roles and being an example and inspiration for the new generations of Latino artists.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
In 1975, NYC was still a place where artists could afford to live and enjoy the fruits of the city. Manhattan still belonged to a diverse population. Now with all the luxury high rises and ridiculous rents and prices for ownership, your average citizen cannot compete. The theatre district has been geared now for tourists. With Minnie Mouse and Elmo roaming Times Square, and Disney dominating a lot of what is produced on Broadway... I look back at 1975 with nostalgia and give thanks that I experienced NY at that time.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
I remember Marvin always being such a bright and happy spirit. Always ready to sit at the piano and entertain us during rehearsals for ACL. He was very funny and quite caring as he supplied doctor care, humidifiers and vitamins for us as we became ill before openings. Not to mention, watching him create the individual Montage sequences for each character on the spot during rehearsals. I thank him and Ed Kleban for two incredibly beautiful and iconic theatre songs... "Nothing" and "What I Did for Love."

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
My perspective hasn't really changed, it has only continued to prove over time that ACL was a ground-breaking musical, a game changer. I am so grateful to have been part of this special creation and that this experience has afforded me a place in theatre history.

Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
I have all my memorabilia in plastic bins in my attic.

 

Chuck Cissel
Chuck Cissel

Chuck Cissel, "Butch"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
There are many highlights in my career. My first Broadway show was Hello, Dolly! with the legendary Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. Loved it so much because of the two icons. Purlie, Lost in the Stars, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and A Chorus Line were also real highlights, plus many national television commercials for Doublemint Chewing Gum, Coca Cola, Carefree Chewing Gum and Pepsi Cola. While in A Chorus Line, I recorded my first solo project, "Swept Away" on MCA Records written and produced by Bobby Thomas (ACL music coordinator) and Harold Wheeler (Broadway music director) and executive produced by the one and only Michael Bennett. Pure joy working with three geniuses. That recording opened the door for me to sign with Arista Records where I recorded two albums, the first producing the international dance hit, "Cisselin' Hot!" Albums executive-produced by then SVP Larkin Arnold and Arista President Clive Davis. Followed with touring dates performing on the Take Me Higher Diana Ross tour and recording on Elton John recordings. Being the CEO of the non-profit Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame for 12 years was extraordinary and allowed me to use all of my creative muscles and I created, directed and produced concerts and master classes with jazz and blues legends such as Wynton Marsalis, the late Dave Brubeck, Taj Mahal, Ramsey Lewis, Marilyn Maye, Eddie Palmeiri, Stanley Jordan and many others. Also as CEO, very proud to have raised $5 million to move the Jazz Hall of Fame to a new and lasting home.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
Clearly for me there is a vast difference between the years of 1975 and 2015. It was a much freer time and much more diverse on Broadway. The Village and Broadway was filled with very cool, hip and creative writers, dancers, musicians and singers and 8th Street was filled with chill shoes stores and fashions of all kinds for men and women. It was a friendly time and lots of colorful and "happy" people. Today, it is filled with cellphone offices, very few fashion stores and lacks the impact of those wonderfully exciting experimental years of the 70's and all of the souls that lived and hung out in the West Village. It was one of the most popular places to enjoy NYC. Fun, fun, fun back then!

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
Watching Marvin create and work allowed me to see his passion, enthusiasm and creative genius at work. He had the joy of a child and the discipline of a master--free yet focused coming from such a spiritual context. He made an indelible impression on me. I related to him on all cylinders.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
I thought it was a magical time in NYC and ACL captured that moment in time. I loved the "in-your-face" script and the songs pushed the boundaries too. I mean for Broadway audiences "Tits and Ass" was so cutting edge as was Shit Ritchie. The music and the script remain relevant and significant today. I thought the entire creative team, under Michael's leadership, was brilliant and innovative. I believe that today. Nothing has really changed in my perspective - loved it then and love it now.. Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
My memorabilia is minimal but hangs on my walls in the form of photos with the cast members.

 

Kay Cole
Kay Cole

Kay Cole, "Maggie"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
My 25-year marriage to my husband Michael Lamont.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
The Village has a more sophisticated energy...but still fun.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
When "At the Ballet" was being conceived…the joy of Marvin saying, "Sing one more ...higher..." And then my excitement that I was able to sing it higher.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
Now that I am a director, I understand Michael Bennett better.

Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
In the den.

 

Carolyn Kirsch
Carolyn Kirsch

Carolyn Kirsch, "Lois"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
Obviously, being a part of such a legendary musical as A Chorus Line, from workshop days to glory days, is major in my life. I value all the times I worked with Michael Bennett and being around his talent. And in 2008, I walked into The Winnipesaukee Playhouse in Meredith, New Hampshire. Amanda Wingfield opened the door and handed me a Best Actress Award for portraying her in A Glass Menagerie. Being able to live in the poetry and poignancy of Tennessee Williams' words was a magical experience.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
Living in Connecticut, I see Broadway and The Village from a more distant vantage point. But they both retain the vibrancy I remember and I'm always creatively alive when I'm back in the city. Oh, and The Public Theater has a much swankier façade than it did in the old days!

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
At the Sitzprobe, Marvin's father was watching him conduct his beautiful score with a lush, full orchestra. I kept watching Mr. Hamlisch's face. There wasn't a lot of reaction, but somehow at the end, you knew he was enormously proud of his son.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
I feel my perspective has erased a lot of the difficulties from before and I'm free to enjoy the legacy of the work, and to enjoy getting together with The Originals. It's been fascinating to catch up with all our journeys through life.

Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
I have pictures on the wall of my library, and my top hat rests on a tall candlestick in my living room. The top hat, especially, makes me very happy.

 

Scott Allen
Scott Allen

Scott Allen, "Roy"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
A Chorus Line was my first Broadway show, but I was a theatre geek long before that. Family blood and all. Michael Bennett, shortly after I joined the cast, told me that he felt simpatico with me. He assured me that wasn't a come on, but to this day it has urged my confidence on. I'm proud to have the good fortune of wearing several hats in the course of my theatrical career and the underlying current has been my family, friends, and the voice of Michael.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
How do I compare thee to a summer's day? The bloom of A Chorus Line was exponential. By Village I'm thinking you mean the Broadway community. I'm not currently part of today's Village, so the comparison is from looking in through the gates of the estate. In many ways little has changed, but life in general was o' so simple then. The city was teetering on bankruptcy, but I felt at home, in my element, and secure among my peers.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
Marvin could be quiet or boisterous. Sometimes both. One, well two, if you'll permit me: I think it was the afternoon before the opening at the Public, Marvin sat at the piano and played numbers from ACL in the style of Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Beethoven, Mozart and so on. Brilliant. The other moment I found interesting involved Marvin and Ed and Jimmy and Nick. Michael had thrown everyone out of the Newman except for "my line." I wondered around back stage circulating from one group to another and I came upon our fab 4 by the elevator muttering to themselves and each other: What happened? Do you know what happened? Why are we not in there? I don't know what happened? An interesting moment in the creative process.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
For me A Chorus Line was Broadway's answer to The Fantasticks. A Chorus Line, as Michael set the show, hasn't changed for me. A Chorus Line was a perfect storm, in this sense; look back on the creative talent that came together, set, orchestrations, lighting, costumes, Marvin, Nick, James, Ed, Bobby Thomas, Bob Avian, Joe, the cast-- that was a perfect artistically electric storm. Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
Regarding costume, all I have is my miniature finale hat, hand made by Woody Shelp. I have my Tony Award cube, the mirrored poster, which was partially ruined in a water pipe mishap, a star, a name slider, and photos I took of the last night the original company played together. And various clippings, programs, CDs, albums . . . All are on shelves in my work space.

 

 

Ronald Dennis (Watson), "Richie"

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
Well, most certainly being involved with such an amazing theater changing experience of being a member of the original cast of A Chorus Line. Plus, the “I Love New York" commercial ads surrounding A Chorus Line, that helped revive the economy of New York City.

Ron Dennis, at right.
Ron Dennis, at right.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
I cannot compare the Village 1975 to 2015, since living in Los Angeles for the majority of my post ACL years other than coming back from 1982 to 1984 in My One and Only, with Tommy Tune and Twiggy. What I do remember about the Village during our rehearsals and run at The Public Theater before Broadway, was how the Village was changing pretty quickly from that ‘funky and wild’ Village that I experienced after moving to NYC from Dayton, Ohio, to pursue my dream and goal of singing and dancing on BROADWAY! The Village was very inclusive and open to so many people who certainly were not Wall Street types, if you get my drift?

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
Marvin was always up and happy and never mean or nasty. I vividly remember Michael Bennett came to me a couple of weeks before previews and asked me to a lunch time meeting with himself; Fran Liebergall, our rehearsal and orchestra pianist; and Bobby Thomas, who was our drummer. I thought that I was going to be on Michael’s chopping block, which he was known to do on a whim and off with your head or your j.o.b. Instead of being chopped, MB proceeded to sing in his very bad Joe Cocker vocals the lyrics to "Gimme The Ball." With Fran improvising some music and Bobby drumming the rhythm of how MB saw the song going, who then hands me a cassette tape (remember those?) and says to me: "Here go home and make something out of this!” I had Aretha Franklin in my mind as my musical muse in my bedroom that night coming up with the melody for GTB. The lyrics of that song were the words of my dear and long-time close friend Candy Brown who had done the previous workshops but had opted to not do the last workshop to go work with Bob Fosse by being in the cast of Chicago. “Gimme The Ball” is the only song in A Chorus Line that was not written by Marvin and Ed Kleban. Credit was never given to me for writing my own little solo song spot in ACL. Water under the A-5-6-7-8 Bridge. How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
The show still holds up and works even with the dated references and what I have observed is the adjustments from our original choreography to what has been done in many version of the show since 1975.

Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
I have some photos on the walls in my hallway and my dining room and two large albums of other photos. 99 percent black and white photos. This was the 1970’s. Plus, I have large storage container in a closet with all of the little bits and pieces of trivia that I’ve saved from our heyday. Like telegrams, notes from the famous and not so famous, etc. The important written words from people back then and they mean a lot knowing they are stored away. Far too many of those note writers have passed away. 40 years later has left its life and death on the many men and women who had done A Chorus Line over the years and are now deceased. Four of our original men are deceased that were a part of ‘The Line.’ I am a lucky so and so!

 

Kelly Bishop
Kelly Bishop Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Kelly Bishop, Sheila

What are your proudest personal professional achievements of the past 40 years?
My proudest achievements over the years would be first, A Chorus Line. I was happy with my work and the recognition I received, but it was the show itself that made me proud. Secondly, playing Ouisa in Six Degrees of Separation at Lincoln Center...the hardest role I've ever played. And third, Emily Gilmore in "Gilmore Girls." Again, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, but it was the quality of the show that gave me such pride.

Compare Broadway and the Village in 1975 with Broadway and the Village in 2015.
Not only Broadway and the Village were struggling in 1975, but all of New York City. Threats of bankruptcy, suffocating graffiti lining the subway cars, a sense that Broadway was dead. Today, the Village is Yuppie-ville and the theater district is Disney-fied. The city surely came back, but the grit had a certain charm and the middle class could actually afford to live in Manhattan. I miss that.

What is your most vivid memory of working with Marvin Hamlisch?
I remember a couple of days while we were rehearsing downtown and Michael Bennett had gotten very angry with the cast...we weren't being very obedient. Michael didn't show up for rehearsal and I remember Marvin taking over. He had been rather reticent up to that point; I was impressed that he took a leadership role. Everything settled down soon after that; all was forgiven and we got back to the job at hand.

How has your perspective on the show changed over the past four decades?
My perspective on the show really hasn't changed. I've certainly cringed over productions and/or performances I've seen over the years--I actually avoid seeing the show most of the time. But I saw a production a couple of years ago that was very close to what we were doing. It was a pleasure to relax and enjoy the genius that was Michael Bennett...it really was a very clever show. Where do you keep your costume and other ACL memorabilia?
I only have a finale hat (which I keep in a plastic bag in a closet), my original leotard from downtown (in a drawer) and my Tony Award, which sits on a shelf in the family room. Maybe a pair of shoes? They would be in that drawer with the leotard. Anything else would be stored in my basement.

Robert Viagas is co-author of "On the Line: The Creation of 'A Chorus Line'" and Managing Editor of Playbill.com.

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