VINTAGE PLAYBILL: A Chorus Line Opening Night, 1975, to the End of the Line, 1990
By Brynn Cox
On this date in history, the original production of A Chorus Line began its legendary Broadway run.
The Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical began its life as a meeting of Broadway dancers in a downtown studio. Among those in attendance was Michael Bennett, who would later direct and choreograph.
"I brought along a tape recorder," Bennett recalled in an interview with the New York Times, "and we talked for hours about what we were doing, what we were after."
Through extensive workshopping produced by the Public Theater, the musical was culled from the hours of recorded sessions and featured music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban, and a book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante.
The Public's Off-Broadway mounting in April 1975 became an immediate, sold-out hit through word of mouth.
The musical premiered on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre on July 25, 1975. When it closed 15 years later, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history. (It would be surpassed by Cats seven years later and is now the sixth-longest Broadway run.)
Revisit the Broadway life of A Chorus Line from opening night through 15 years of commemorative Playbill covers in the Playbill Vault:
The opening night Playbill pays tribute to its cast of dancers including their careers, sacrifices, and injuries. The Playbill notes that "collectively they have had 612 years of dance training" and "given a total of 37,095 performances."
It includes the following inscription: "The characters portrayed in A Chorus Line are, for the most part, based upon the lives and experiences of Broadway dancers. This show is dedicated to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step...anywhere."
The 1975 opening night Playbill features the iconic image of dancers on the line. The cover showcases the cast in Tony-nominated costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge and the graphic A Chorus Line logo designed by Susan Frank.
Four years after the opening, A Chorus Line got its first color Playbill. It features a photo favored by Associate Producer Bernard Gersten showing the Shubert marquee.
Photographer Paul Elson recalled, "It was a summer's evening, and I made the exposure long enough so that none of the crowd in front of the theater would appear to focused; it was just a fortuitous juxtaposition of people at the right time of night, before curtain."
On September 29, 1982, A Chorus Line played its 3,389th performance, surpassing Grease to became the longest-running show in Broadway history. To commemorate the occasion, Michael Bennett specially staged a performance to incorporate 332 current and former A Chorus Line dancers in the musical's beloved "What I Did for Love" and "One" production numbers.
On August 10, 1987, A Chorus Line commemorated its 5,000 performance with a special cover, featuring the black, white, and gold color scheme showcased in the show's finale.
Two years later, A Chorus Line celebrated its next milestone: 6,000 performances. The milestone fell on New Year's Eve 1989, and Joseph Papp gave away 500 free tickets to the celebration.
In 1990, producers announced that the revolutionary musical would end its run. By the close of its 15 years on Broadway, six million people had watched more than 500 cast members perform A Chorus Line at the Shubert Theatre.
The closing Playbill cover featured the tag line "The End of the Line" and original cast members Sammy Williams and Priscilla Lopez. Aside from a marketing campaign in 1986 advertising Donna McKechnie's return to the show, it was the only Chorus Line art to single out original cast members.
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