Few people can say they’ve escaped the pain of rejection. But for many entertainers, rejection isn’t just an occasional letdown. It’s something they experience with impossible frequency. We’re talking daily, if not multiple times a day for some. That’s why performers rehearsing for Off Square Theatre Company’s A Chorus Line got a little emotional the other day. The scene they were practicing hit close to home.
“Half of the cast started weeping,” actor Jeff Bratz said.
Performers were rehearsing the song, “What I Did for Love.” It poses the question: What would you do if you couldn’t dance anymore? It brought into focus the risk, rejection and resilience that permeate show business.
“There’s just so much being said in that scene that everybody in the cast can relate to, whether [you’re] a dancer, a singer, musician, actor, whatever it is,” Bratz said.
It was “a key point” for the former Jackson resident. It’s when he realized, “We’re not just dancing and singing—we’re really talking about ourselves.”
It makes sense that actors would see themselves in A Chorus Line. The iconic musical takes us behind the scenes of a Broadway audition—the undercurrents of angst and anticipation that ebb and flow behind the curtain. But it’s not just real-life performers tasked with capturing the hearts and minds of their audiences who relate with A Chorus Line. Associate director and actor Christine Rowan said the 1975 musical contains universal themes.
“It’s about love,” she said. “Not necessarily romantic love, but passion for what you do, for your art, for your family.” That element has allowed the show to endure, Rowan added.
“It ran on Broadway for 15 years and then they did a revival of it that ran for another nearly two years. The common thread that the audience can experience with the people on stage, even if they’re not performers, is that we all understand that kind of love.”
“We’re not just dancing and singing—
we’re really talking about ourselves.”
A Chorus Line was not only one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway. It also won nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for drama. But some critics have said the musical has begun to show its age. Jesse Green of The New York Times posits that, today, the trials and tribulations of the characters sometimes appear, “long-winded and unsurprising.”
But at the core of their narratives is something that holds relevance for modern audiences, director Jeremy Benton said.
“I think it’s about persistence and that word, I think, rings very true right now in our particular climate. Political, ecological, economical—it’s persistence to do what you know is the right thing to do and also personal persistence for the people in our play.”
The musical also builds empathy for the people who brave a cutthroat business.
“We get rejected 85 percent of our day,” Benton said. “And I think that’s what the learning experience will be. The audience here is going, ‘Wow, I get rejected once and it’s the end of the world. But these people get four, five, six, seven rejections a day. And they persist to the next one. They keep going forward.’ I think that’s maybe the nugget: keep going forward.”
A Chorus Line is October 24 to November 2 at the Black Box Theater inside Center for the Arts.