Michael Bennett's A Chorus Line

Part III - Acclaim

by William J. McKay

(Copyright 1998)

(Note: All the photos below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions.)

ACL on the cover of NewsweekA Chorus Line received nationwide press coverage. Donna McKechnie appeared on the cover of Newsweek performing "The Music and the Mirror."

A Chorus Line opened to almost unanimous rave reviews and ran for fifteen years. It won almost every award possible, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It received nine 1976 Antoinette Perry Awards:

While this musical about musicals focused on the lives of dancers, general audiences found that the show spoke to their individual lives and experiences. In the Playbill listings, the show was dedicated "to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step . . . anywhere."

However, it seemed to be professional performers and future hopefuls who were most affected by A Chorus Line. Younger performers felt the exciting potential of their dreams, and more experienced performers identified with the struggle to stay in the business, not only to make a living but for love of the work. Ask almost any dancer or actor who saw it and they will tell you it provided a spark or moment of inspiration that pulled at some part of their souls. In some way, they found their own stories on that stage with all the joys and disappointments, fears, memories, and hopes. As one character in the show proclaims, "They're all special. I'd be happy to be dancing in that line. Yes, I would . . . and I'll take chorus."


ACL PosterOne of ACL's most popular window cards, introduced during the latter part of the run.

A Chorus Line was the perfect combination of artistic achievement and popular appeal. Some have commented that none of the original cast have yet gone on to the celebrated fame that many fans were sure would come their way. However, some have made and are still making significant contributions to the theatre both onstage and behind the scenes. Regardless of what happened after their involvement with A Chorus Line, they can take pride that they were part of an undeniable milestone in theatrical history.

As A Chorus Line ran on, Michael Bennett went on to Ballroom (1979) which had a disappointing run but brought Bennett another Tony for choreography. Then came the enormous hit Dreamgirls (1981) and yet another Tony for choreography. On September 29, 1983, A Chorus Line became the longest running Broadway show ever with performance number 3,389. For that special night, Bennett re-staged the show so that each number featured current and past members of the Broadway, touring and international casts. The highlight was the finale, with 338 dancers sharing the stage at once.

The final ACL PlaybillSammy Williams and Priscilla Lopez on the closing night Playbill for ACL - click on this thumbnail image to see a larger version.

Michael Bennett began work on two more projects, Chess and Scandal, but never finished. He died on July 2, 1987 at his home in Tuscon, the official cause being lymphoma, an AIDS-related form of cancer. The man who was "one singular sensation" was gone at the age of 44.

On Broadway, A Chorus Line was still playing and his dances were still being performed. He had kept his illness quiet, so there were no final tributes in his final days. No bows, just a fade out. A dancer's life.

The Author of This Essay

Billy McKay

William J. McKay is a New York actor, Equity member, and a graduate of The Actors Studio MFA Program. Musicals101 is honored to host his tribute to A Chorus Line.



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