On The 45th Anniversary Of ‘A Chorus Line’

Me as ‘Mark’ in the national touring company of A Chorus Line

“Who have you been with my son?”

Funny you should ask…

Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, listening to original Broadway cast recordings, I somehow discovered A Chorus Line.

It was dynamic and cool, and mysterious (“Give me somebody to dance for…”) and…..some stuff I didn’t understand (yet).

And then I saw the show on Broadway at the Shubert Theater and it flew by! Like the album on steroids. So fast!

And all the stories! Brilliant and raw and funny and, and, and, and somewhere up there, I saw…me.

Who would guess in a few years I’d be cast in the national tour company with the original Tony Award winner, Donna McKechnie? Directed by original cast member Baayork Lee?

The show became an enormously important part of my life. Not one performance went by that I didn’t look up to ‘the second balcony’ during the 11 o’clock number “What I Did For Love” and thank the universe for the ‘chance to dance.’

Today is, incredibly, the 45th anniversary of the opening night of A Chorus Line on Broadway. What an incredible gift this show has been to me.

From ‘Mark’ to ‘Bobby’ to directing the show and passing on what I learned from Donna, Baayork, Kay Cole (original ‘Maggie’), and my dear wonderful Thommie Walsh, I say thank you.

#whatididforlove

p.s. If you know the show, you know the monologue I quote to begin this post 😉

News Round-Up: March 29, 2018

Me with Arminae Austen and Matt Zarley in Fort Worth, Texas 1999

Some news items you might have missed:

• Since it’s Thursday, how about a little #Throwback action? The pic above was from a production of A Chorus Line I directed back in 1999 at Casa Mañana in Fort Worth, Texas. I wasn’t originally going to be in the show but the producers eventually asked if I would also play the role of “Bobby” since I had many times before. Pictured with my besties from the Broadway production of ACL who came down to kill it, and kill it they did, Matt Zarley and Arminae Austen.

• There will be a sixth and final installment of social media phenom Sharknado this year on SyFy Network. #YAY! #DumbButFun

• The Ecuadorian embassy has placed jammers in its own building to block WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from access to the internet, social media or even phone calls. Assange has been living in the embassy since 2012 believing he’ll be picked up and extradited to the United States for questioning over activities by WikiLeaks.

•  A high-level Trump campaign official had repeated communications in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a document released on Tuesday by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election. Remember when the story was “There was NO communication by anyone on the Trump campaign with Russians?”

• Did you hear the one about Donald Trump’s lawyer dangling pardons to former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and former campaign chair Paul Manafort? #ObstructionOfJustice?

• Always keeping in mind that nature is beautiful but can be just as dangerous, check out this incredible video of a cheetah on the hunt who jumped into a jeep to check things out. Gorgeous, exciting but scary as hell. The passenger didn’t make eye contact so he wouldn’t seem a threat. #WOW

Broadway’s Robert Fairchild Dances “Music And The Mirror” For MISCAST! Gala

Robert Fairchild at the 2018 “Miscast” Gala

MCC Theater’s annual MisCast gala is one of the most exciting and unique theater events in New York City. Broadway’s brightest stars perform songs from roles in which they would never be cast.

At this year’s event, Robert Fairchild, nominated for a Tony Award in his Broadway debut as “Jerry Mulligan” in the musical An American In Paris, took on the challenge of performing “The Music and the Mirror” originally danced by Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie in the groundbreaking A Chorus Line.

I actually have a story to tell in relation to this.

In 1989, I was cast in a national tour of A Chorus Line starring the original Tony Award winner for “Cassie,” Donna McKechnie.

Donna was a hero to me. I didn’t hesitate to say “yes.” No negotiating – just sign me up. I had to share the stage with the incomparable McKechnie.

Not only was Donna still brilliant, if not better than ever, in the role, but she was as wonderful in life as she was illuminating onstage. We became fast friends.

Along the tour, due to my constant curiosity, I asked Donna questions about “Music and the Mirror” (aka “Cassie dance”). Donna was very generous in passing along information about the backstory of the dance, the meaning behind the movement, the storytelling, where steps came from…

Eventually she gave me a “Cassie dance” class and personally taught me the dance. It seemed back then that all then male dancers wanted to know the dance as it was not only dramatic but thrillingly athletic to dance.

Now, when we would arrive at a new city on tour, there would be a sound check at the theater and among other things Donna would sing “Music and the Mirror” so the sound man could get a handle on the new acoustics. The orchestra would play the full dance as it also helped the sound department EQ the band.

Donna didn’t dance the dance in sound check as, well, she didn’t need to. The understudy would take the opportunity to go over the number onstage as me and another dancer in the show would work the dance in a corner of the stage. I mean, the music WAS playing and we stayed out of the way.

At our last stop on the tour, I was uncharacteristically in my dressing room in the basement of the theatre as Donna sound checked the song. As the music kept playing, I heard the cast in the audience start chanting, “Ran-dy! Ran-dy! Ran-dy!”

It took me a second to understand what was going on, but I went flying upstairs.

I hit the empty stage just in time for the first dance break into the mirrors. The cast burst into cheers as I went into full-on “Cassie dance.” Donna had suggested I finally get my “chance to dance.”

For that one time, I had the full stage to take on the whole dance with a full Broadway-size orchestra. The stage manager even had the crew fly in the mirrors in the middle of the dance. Can you imagine?

It was a thrill to be in the moment, in the music and have my friends (and Donna) encourage me. Truly a memory to keep 🙂

The cast used to muse that I could be an understudy as “Casey” in a “non-traditional casting” choice.

I’ve since directed and choreographed A Chorus Line several times always passing on what Donna taught me about the dance.

Robert Fairchild does a terrific job here. He has a small space but makes the dance work beautifully.

The guy dancers still love to dance this dance. And I’m proud to say I know why 🙂

Watch below.

Excuse Me For A Moment…

I don’t take my fellow LGBTQ media colleagues to task very often, but I have to say I’ve been stunned how little coverage the passing of Tony Award winner Sammy Williams of A Chorus Line fame got in the LGBTQ media.

I’ll admit up front that some outlets like Boy Culture and Kenneth-in-the-212 took time to acknowledge the huge contribution that Williams made with his groundbreaking performance as a gay dancer in the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line as “Paul San Marco.”

But so many – and you know who you are – didn’t take even a few minutes to briefly write or even link to remembrances of the actor.

I even wrote to a few major outlets to point up his passing.

In addition to the Tony Award, Williams was honored with the Obie Award and a Special Theatre World Award for his stunning work.

It’s no exaggeration to say Sammy’s performance in A Chorus Line changed lives.

Audiences gay and straight had rarely seen such a raw, authentic portrayal of a gay man on the Broadway stage before his Tony Award-winning performance. For many gay men it was heart-stopping to see our lives presented without any pulled punches.

Long before we had actors like out actors like Sean Hayes and Jim Parsons put gay life in front of audiences, even before we had straight actor Billy Crystal in the 70s TV show Soap, Sammy Williams had the courage and talent to stand alone in a single spotlight and stun audiences with a 7-minute monologue with no special effects or tricks – just the power of the sound of his voice – wherein he chronicled his character’s difficult journey as a young gay dancer who could only find safety in the company of drag queens.

Drag queens, Tony Awards, Broadway, authentic gay life – these are subjects constantly in the gay press but for the most part Williams’ passing went ignored.

A Chorus Line won not only 7 Tony Awards (one for Williams) but a Pulitzer Prize for Drama – in great part because of Williams’ performance.

He was a courageous artist and trailblazer.

He deserved more.

Tony Award-Winner (“A Chorus Line”) Sammy Williams Passes Away At 69

Very sad to report that Sammy Williams, Tony Award-winner for his groundbreaking performance as gay dancer “Paul San Marco” in the original production of A Chorus Line, has passed away at the age of 69.

In addition to the Tony Award, Williams was honored with the Obie Award and a Special Theatre World Award for his stunning work.

While Michael Bennett’s edgy, “internal/external” direction and choreography advanced the art of Broadway story-telling by light years, Williams’ monologue chronicling “Paul’s” difficult teen years as a young gay man was the definition of pure theatre.

Standing in a spotlight with practically no movement at all, the heart-breaking and painfully authentic journey of “Paul” drew audiences in with just the power of his voice.

The one sly theatrical technique Bennett employed during the segment – a long, slow, almost indiscernible 90-second lighting cue that brought all the stage lights down save for that one spotlight. Paired with Williams’ brilliant performance, audiences were powerless to avoid the emotional impact of the scene.

It’s no exaggeration to say Sammy’s performance in A Chorus Line changed lives.

Audiences gay and straight had rarely seen such a raw, authentic portrayal of a gay man on the Broadway stage before his Tony Award-winning performance. For many gay men it was heart-stopping to see our lives presented without any pulled punches.

Williams’ was only 26 when he first played San Marco, and although he had previously performed on Broadway in Applause, Seesaw and The Happy Time, this – amazingly – was his first speaking role.

Longtime fans of the show might be surprised to know that Williams’ life story actually appeared in the musical but not in the role of San Marco.

During the now-famous “tape recorded sessions” of dancers, Williams shared that in his childhood, when his sister announced she didn’t feel like going to dance class, he told his parents “I can do that!” and so was born the role of “Mike Costa” and the song “I Can Do That!”

Original cast member and dance captain Baayork Lee shared her condolences on Facebook: “My heart is sad this morning as I learned Sammy Williams, original Paul in A Chorus Line, has gone on his journey into the light. Sammy and I spent so much time together between our ACL workshops and sharing our experiences. R.I.P. Fly and soar as you did here.”

On a personal note, I spent years touring in the national company of A Chorus Line, for the most part in the role of “Mark” standing next to “Paul.” From my first production in 1985 to my last in 2015 (as choreographer), the power of the show never failed move me.

A Chorus Line opened at the Shubert Theater on July 25, 1975, and played 6,137 performances, becoming Broadway’s longest-running production until 1997, when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats surpassed that number.

Williams returned to the Shubert Theatre on September 29, 1983, for A Chorus Line‘s record-breaking performance.

Below, watch a portion of Williams leading a “greek chorus” of “Pauls” in his Tony Award-winning monologue at that special event.

From the original Broadway cast recording, Williams offered the audience foreshadowing of what was to come with “Who Am I Anyway?” at the end of the opening number.

My Favorite Thing Today: Dancing A CHORUS LINE In A T-Rex Costume

Without a doubt, this is my favorite thing today.

A dancer performs the opening combination of A CHORUS LINE in a T-Rex costume!

Hysterical!

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Yes, this is me in a T- Rex costume dancing A Chorus Line. Hope you enjoy.
Posted by Michael Macilwee on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

40 Years Ago Today: A Chorus Line Officially Opens On Broadway

October 19, 1975, A Chorus Line officially opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre

Time: Now. – Place. Here.

“The characters portrayed in A CHORUS LINE are, for the most part, based upon the lives of Broadway dancers. This show is dedicated to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step…anywhere.”

It’s difficult to calculate the impact the show has had on my life and career. As many long-time readers know, I performed in two national touring companies of the show, working at different time with several of the now legendary original cast members including Tony Award winners Donna McKechnie, Kelly Bishop, Priscilla Lopez, plus Baayork Lee, Thommie Walsh and Kay Cole.

I also came thisclose to being cast in the Broadway production twice. Life.

Since then, I’ve passed on what I learned from those greats by staging almost a dozen productions of the show.

Happy Anniversary A Chorus Line!

(h/t Paul Liberti)

Happy Birthday Julie Andrews – “At The Ballet”

I am a fan of the fab Julie Andrews. What a talent.

Rather than post something obvious, like the opening of “The Sound of Music” – I found this rather rare, and unusual clip from a 1979 TV special where Julie sings all three parts of “At The Ballet” from the then fantastically popular A Chorus Line.

It gets a little surreal as she tries to interpolate all three parts, but you get the idea.

Gotta love 1970s TV specials….

40th Anniversary of A Chorus Line Opening On Broadway

I can’t imagine my life without the impact of A Chorus Line. Both professionally as an actor and personally as a gay man.

Ground-breaking, innovative, genius – the superlatives for the 7 time Tony Award winning Broadway musical go on and on.

Thanks to Michael Bennett and company for opening so many doors and taking the next step.