Introducing 'A Chorus Line' to a new generation

Seminal 1970s musical at Fox takes frank look at 'anonymous' entertainers

His parents were both officers in the Atlanta Police Department, and he'd never even heard of musical theater until he got to Cobb County's Pebblebrook High School.

Now the former Mariettan has a major role in the national tour of "A Chorus Line," the 1975 Broadway musical about a group of dancers suffering through a soul-baring, sometimes humiliating audition.

Based on actual interviews with performers, "A Chorus Line" — which plays the Fox Theatre tonight through Sunday — was a precursor to today's reality TV shows. Conceived by director Michael Bennett, its ensemble-generated, documentary-style approach was a new way of telling a story onstage. It won the Pulitzer Prize. Now it's being re-introduced to a new generation of audiences — people like the 23-year-old Prattes, who was born in 1985, a decade after the show rocked, and sometimes shocked, a nation.

Diaphragms. Gonorrhea. Homosexuality. "Practice kissing" between two girls. The career advantages of plastic surgery. These were a few of the racy topics that "A Chorus Line" dared to discuss.

"It was the peak of the sexual revolution, so we just ran with that," says Bob Avian, the original choreographer and director of the 2006 Broadway revival and national tour. "We said things onstage that had never been said before. We opened doors that were pretty shocking."

For gays in particular, the stories of the characters Paul and Gregory were raw, recognizable and poignant. Here were characters putting things out in the open that one would never discuss with one's parents or employers. The show became a catalyst for empowerment and coming out of the closet.

Says Avian: "So many people we ran into afterward would say, 'You don't know how you changed my life. The things you said are things I have been dying to say or have been feeling, and to see it and hear it being said in the theater was so revelatory.' "

Decades later, issues of sexual identity may be less important than simply making ends meet. Homophobia is down; hunger is up. So the lyrics to the opening number, "I Hope I Get It," may have a different meaning than they once did: I really need this job. Please God, I need this job. I've got to get this job.

"What's happened is that the focus is more on the meaning of the show," composer Marvin Hamlisch says. "The need to be on the line. The need to get the job. The need to be an individual. In a strange way, I think it resonates better today than it did then."

"It's not about the star," Avian says. "It's not about characters who are bigger than life, who are celebrities or powerful people. It's about the little guy. It's about Everyman. It's about the guy who marches in step. The fellow who works in the factory. The person who works in the chorus who is hardly seen or recognized. They work so hard to get to this place, and then they are totally anonymous."

Prattes, who had never heard of "A Chorus Line" until a buddy was cast in the Broadway revival, can relate. Now he's playing Al, the character who is married to the hopelessly bad singer, Kristine. "Honestly, he's just a guy who is in love and wants to give his wife the best that he can. And if they can get this job, they can really start their life ... with financial stability."

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