A Chorus Line creator Michael Bennett famously conceived the story of the 1975 Tony-winning Best Musical based on taped interviews of Broadway dancers telling their personal stories. Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood arranged these stories (combining some into a single character and leaving others to stand on their own) in the context of an audition. Curtain up on a desperate group of ensemblists dancing for their lives, trying to “get this job.” But the next phase of the audition puts these dancers on the line as director Zach asks them to share why they do what they do; he wants to know them as people.
For decades, dancers and performers have seen themselves in the faces of the characters on the line. In celebration of the opening night of A Chorus Line at New York City Center and its 75th Anniversary Gala November 14, Playbill asked the current cast of A Chorus Line: Whose story on the line was your story, and what’s the biggest surprise about how you relate to the character you actually play?
In order of the line, of course:
Max Clayton, Don
The character he most related to: This must be a common answer from the men, but I definitely related to Mike’s story. I grew up watching my sister Missy’s dance classes through the glass at Bedford Dance Center in New Hampshire. She’s the most incredible dancer and has always been my biggest inspiration. I also happen to have a large Italian family on my mom’s side—shout out to the Truncellitos!
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: Having a wife and two kids. [Laughs] I don’t have either of those, yet I do know what it’s like to make family your first priority, so that has actually been the most relatable quality I share with him. He puts them first and even admits at the end of the show that he is at the audition because “it’s all about paying the bills now.”
Sara Esty, Maggie (understudy Cassie)
The character she most related to: I actually relate a lot to Maggie. I grew up doing ballet, always dancing around my living room. Always making up shows. Filming my own movies. I did have that crazy imagination as a kid.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: Every time she talks about her dad I get very emotional. My parents got divorced probably six or seven years ago—so I did miss him when he wasn’t in the house. Then singing about her mom [as Maggie]…I’m really close to my family so it doesn’t take much to pull that emotion out.
Tommy Bracco, Mike
The character he most related to: Funny enough, Mike Costa. So random. [Laughs] I’m Italian. He’s Italian. Big family. Grandmother at the window on a little pillow—that’s 100 percent true. That’s literally what my grandma used to do. [I didn’t have an older sister] but I did watch Every Little Step and that movie played a huge role in me deciding to be a performer.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: The thing I connect with Mike about is, at the end—the alternative scene—he has all these lines about how he’s worried about his family. He’s worried about starting a family of his own. With being a performer there’s no security in it. He’s an Italian family guy from Jersey. He’s only 24, he’s young, but for people back home that’s old. He’s already starting the family later than everybody else and he doesn’t see that happening any time soon because of his career. That’s something I relate to because I come from Staten Island. My family, they’re all having kids from a younger age. I feel like I have to choose between having a family at this point in my life or being here, and I’m choosing to be here and so is Mike.
Jolina Javier, Connie
The character she most related to: It was a blend of Connie’s [story] and also Mike’s because I started dancing when my sister did. I had to do everything she does. I can do that, literally.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: How much confidence she has in herself. I am always second-guessing myself. I’m learning how tough she is and how hard she has to work and I have to do those things, too.
Denis Lambert, Greg
The character he most related to: Diana. I really relate to having to process whether what a teacher is telling you is actually helpful or not.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: I love playing Greg because there’s a big part of me that doesn’t care—as much as I care. I think I often care too much and there’s a big part of him that’s able to see that humor in everything. But that side of him exists in me. So it’s fun to be able to enlarge that side, to focus on that side because it’s there. It’s just not where I live every day.
Robyn Hurder, Cassie
The character she most related to: Well, I first saw the show when I was about ten years old at a community theatre in Maine. I remember loving it all so much, but it was the kick line at the end of the finale that sent me over the edge. Then I went home and pretended to be Val for about....15 years.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: I did this role ten years ago on the National Tour and I felt I was too young. I couldn’t properly relate to her because I didn’t have enough experience in this business. I didn’t know what it felt like to not be able to get a job. I’ve gone through a lot since then. I’ve had moments of not working for two years, I’ve had a child and gone through the emotional and physical transformation of my body, which was way more intense than expected. I’ve had injuries that have made me wonder if I will ever be the dancer I was. I’ve had thoughts of never wanting to dance again. These past couple of years I have fallen back in love with it. And I am so grateful. All of this I feel was supposed to happen to bring me to this moment. I am so much stronger now—physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s a pure gift to revisit this role....because now I know what she’s talking about. I’ve lived it.
Leigh Zimmerman, Sheila
The character she most related to: Cassie. I’ve moved around a lot. I was on Broadway for a long time and then I went to London for ten years. I know what it’s like to go away and come back and ask yourself: What are you willing to do to continue to work? I have persevered. I have been around.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: The part that strikes me every time I sing it is when she’s talking about her dad—which is the opposite of my relationship with my dad, that he wasn’t warm to her mother or to her. I don’t know why I’m connecting with it so much that it makes me so emotional. That surprises me every time.
Jay Armstrong Johnson, Bobby
The character he most related to: I never saw the production before playing Mark in a regional production in my hometown for which I got my Equity card as a teenager. It was Mark I related to then because I was just breaking into the business, but now that I’m Bobby and been around the block a bit, I feel like Bobby. I was the kid who hated sports and recruited my cousins to put on garage recitals.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: I think that if I would have grown up in the ’70s, the darker parts of Bobby would have been in me. Of course he makes a joke of it, but at the end of the day, he had thoughts of suicide.
Naomi C. Walley, Bebe
The character she most related to on the line: Diana. I always loved her strength and her incredible sense of self. Her passion for life in the theatre is something I can really relate to personally.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: The most unexpected thing that I relate to about Bebe is her youth in show business. Although I’ve been performing professionally for just shy of ten years, I toured for the better part of my career and just made my Broadway debut earlier this year, so being back here in New York feels like I’ve just arrived on the scene in a way. It’s really thrilling and I think Bebe has a similar excitement in being ready and wanting to take on whatever comes her way!
Melanie Moore, Judy
The character she most related to: I didn’t see the show until I was cast in the show, but seeing the show the character I most relate to is Mike Costa. I started dancing because my sister is three years older than me and she started dancing. I was like, “You get to be onstage? I want to be onstage!” I used to put on shows at my house and I was not good. His character is really good. So in that way I was the polar opposite.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: Judy’s role is all over the place and I don’t always get to embrace that side of myself. [Judy’s] a little bit of a space cadet and I actually am a space cadet. Professionally, we don’t always get to be like that because we have to be really together. I found that embracing my inner Judy has made me a crazy person but it’s really fun and it’s good.
Anthony Wayne, Richie
The character he most related to: I think Cassie’s story actually. The heart and soul of dancing and singing and just being onstage will never leave me. Even when I got into producing and creating, at the root of it is the love of being onstage and the love of dancing and creating—of that art.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: The grind of not having a job and working to figure out what you have to do. To know that Richie has been working his butt off and able to let go and leave his job—what he was supposed to do—to do what his heart desires is really incredible. For me to leave [the cast of] Pippin [years ago] not to do any show but to do my own show and create it and make that leap, it’s the same way he sees greater for himself. It’s also being a beacon for other young black men who will come to whatever show that’s being created to say, “Oh, I can do that, too.”
Joseph J. Simeone, Al
The character he most related to: Before being in any production of A Chorus Line the story that was most like my own was that of Sheila Bryant, because my interest in the visual arts, music composition, and dance was completely born out of the escapism they provided.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: In the show I play Alan Deluca, who completes his wife’s sentences. Well, it turns out, I can relate to being the same loving, over protective, and impatient man who interrupts his partner constantly!
Kate Bailey, Kristine
The character she most related to: As a young girl there’s something about “At the Ballet” as a song that I think just speaks to a lot of young people’s journey as a dancer.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: Kristine has taken me by surprise. I feel like myself on the line. Her quirk and her abandon in telling things—I find her to be a comforting type of auditioner. I do think of myself as a singer, but it’s fun to drop that for a bit and just let it flow.
J. Elaine Marcos, Val
The character she most related to: I guess Kristine and “Sing.” I remember, with my cousins we put a little group together. We would always perform in the basement and then do a show and we called ourselves The Illusions. My aunt one time, said, “No, Elaine, don’t sing, just dance in the back.” That really stuck in my head. “Don’t sing.”
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: [Val] says the line “I wasn’t hired because of the way I looked.” Now, I don’t identify in terms of body parts, but because I am Filipino [in auditions] they’ll say “It’s great, but we don’t see her as Filipino.” It’s just, “Your outside doesn’t go with what’s going on the inside of my head.”
David Grindrod, Mark
The character he most related to: The first time I saw this show was on tour, and Robyn and Anthony and Jay were in the show and Jay played Mark. I was like, “That is my part. I have to play that character.” I wanted to stand in that line with all those amazing people and that’s how I feel now. I look down the line and it’s the people I’ve looked up to for all these years, and now I get to do a show with them.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: He confuses a medical issue for another issue and growing up I definitely did that. I went on WebMD and was convinced I had some sort of STD and it was not. [Leans into the mic] I am STD FREE. [Laughs]
Eddie Gutierrez, Paul
The character he most related to: It was Paul for me. My high school drama teacher first introduced me to this show. She didn’t cast me as Paul, but I remember always watching it and being, “That’s the part I want to play someday.”
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: There’s a lot of stuff in his story that is very hard—stuff with family, stuff with his relationship to himself as a man. Stuff that I think any gay man growing up deals with in some way. I’ve dealt with all those issues he’s dealt with. It’s great to be able to do it onstage and expose it to other people who might be dealing with the same thing.
Tara Kostmayer, Diana
The character she most related to: One of the characters that I related to a lot when I first saw the show was Paul. He mentions how he didn't start dancing until "very late," and though I started dancing at an early age I related because I didn't start doing musicals or theatre until a lot later in my life. Also, I definitely related to both his hesitancy in opening up about his personal life and his quiet demeanor in comparison to the rest of the line. When it comes to talking about myself in front of a group of people I certainly am much more of a quiet observer as well!
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: I thought I would have the most difficulty relating to Diana's brashness and tough attitude when it comes to talking to Zach. She really has a powerful fierceness that she shows right from the get-go (something that Tara would rarely do when it comes to talking to people who are auditioning her!). However, working with this character has really helped me recognize that that fire exists within me as well. Even if it's not necessarily the very first thing that comes across, it’s definitely something I know is there and am very excited to bring out and explore with this character!
Callan Bergmann, Frank (understudy Mike, Larry, Bobby)
The character he most related to: I don’t think it’s necessarily my story, but it definitely called out to me: Bobby. He’s from Buffalo or outside of Buffalo [where I’m from].
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: All the sentimental moments of the show. It makes you stop and think how lucky we are to be doing this with our lives. It reminded me of that.
Natalie Bourgeois, Lois (understudy Diana, Bebe)
The character she most related to: One of the “At the Ballet” girls. I also grew up dancing at a ballet studio and every single day after school I’d go dance for four hours and that was just my life. The first time I heard this cast sing “At the Ballet,” I just sobbed because I remember this is what we do and this is what I grew up doing.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: Every time I sing “What I Did For Love,” I remember this is what I really love to do. It’s always very powerful.
Wesley Ian Cappiello, Roy (understudy Greg, Al, Mark)
The character he most related to on the line: Right now it would be Mark because I understand what it’s like to be one of the youngest people in the room, and to be just starting out and a new fresh face in the community.
Aaron Patrick Craven, Butch (understudy Zach)
The character he most related to: Don Kerr because he’s a Kansas City boy and I am too.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: I understudy Zach. I can understand the drive that he has and that “Why shouldn’t you be all that you can be? You should be.” But Zach is usually played ten years older than I am. I thought being on that side on all the experiences that he’s had that might be a difficult thing to try to tap into, but, under the direction of Bob Avian and Baayork Lee, it really has not been that difficult.
Francine Espiritu, Female Swing (understudy Connie)
The character she most related to: My story was a culmination of a bunch of characters. Connie Wong because, yes, I am short. I also related to Diana’s funkiness and energy, and at the same time Cassie’s story. When you’re trying to start over and figure out what the second career shift may look like. And Bebe a bit, how she talks about not fitting in.
Joseph Fierberg, Male Swing
The character he most related to on the line: Mike. [My sister] is my Rosalie because [she’s] my sister who danced before me. I remember going to [her] dance recital and seeing [her] perform and wondering what was happening backstage before you go onstage and then while you’re performing. I had such wonder and curiosity and excitement about it that I wanted to do it myself. And I started tap dancing before I did jazz and ballet and fell into theatre.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: My initial answer [ties to] Al. They wanted to see me for Al, and I thought “Al? He’s from The Bronx. He’s 30. That’s not really me.” But then, seeing his interaction with his wife Kristine on the line is very endearing—how adoring and protective he is of her throughout the show. At the end of the show they’re holding hands the whole time. It’s a very unique storyline in the show and a very important one because there’s so many people in the business who are either dating each other or married each other and it’s another color in the story.
Emily Franch, Vicki (understudy Val, Judy)
The character she most related to on the line: Maggie. My dad wasn’t around so I used to pretend that my male dance teachers were my dad, kind of.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: Just getting this job. I’m getting my Equity card from this job. So in that opening number I just want the job so badly because I remember that feeling, and it’s great that I actually got it!
Jenna Nicole Schoen, Tricia (understudy Maggie, Sheila, Kristine)
The character she most related to: Other than her being married, Kristine because I’m so scatterbrained and really clumsy and I always felt like, “Oh these dancers around me are so graceful. What am I missing?” But when I danced, I felt at peace. Seeing A Chorus Line I realized there’s a place for me.
The unexpected thing she relates to about her actual character: I did grow up in the ballet world so relating to that side of Maggie.
Ahmad Simmons, Tom (understudy Richie, Don, Paul)
The character he most related to: I always wanted to be Richie because he’s black and he’s bold and he’s fabulous in the energy that he gives. I can relate to that, but it wasn’t actually Richie. It was more Paul. A lot of things he went through in his life were the same things I went through in mine at the core.
The unexpected thing he relates to about his actual character: I didn’t necessarily have a traumatic coming out stage in my life the way Paul did, but I still sort of have the shame of it. That caught me off guard as I’m working on it now, peeling back those layers.
A Chorus Line plays New York City Center (131 W. 55th St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues) November 14–18.