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God, I hope I get it.
—From the Opening Chorus number.
In 1975, composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Edward Kleban, and writers James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante decided to collaborate on a musical about the lives of those folks on the Broadway chorus line. They gathered a bunch of their friends in acting and dancing together for a long night of conversation (and wine) and tape-recorded what was said. This was the result.
In this musical, the lives of many dancers converge on stage as they audition for a big musical. They do their best to impress the director, Zach, and hope they get the job. However, once they're down to seventeen, Zach makes a surprising request: he asks the dancers to tell their names, ages, and a little bit of their Backstory - where they come from and why they dance. Ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking, they tell their stories one by one. After one of them faces a possible career-ending injury, everyone confronts the question: what does it mean to them? In the end, eight are chosen.
They all reunite on stage for the final number, a triumphant and delightful song in praise of the "One" singular sensation.
A film version was made in 1985, but did poorly at the box office.
- A-Cup Angst: Val, as told in her number, "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: One of the few aversions: the story and songs were completely new.
- Ambiguously Gay: Bobby.
- Backstory: The point is to give the anonymous chorus backgrounds, stories, and voices of their own - and it was done by giving them the stories of the original actors.
- Babies Make Everything Better: "... I was born to save their marriage, but when my father picked my mother up from the hospital, he said 'Well, I thought this was going to help, but I guess it's not.'"
- Blessed with Suck: All of these characters have phenomenal skill. It's a shame that one day they'll have to stop doing the only thing they know how to do, and what they love, because their bodies won't be able to handle it anymore.
- Coming of Age Story: Seventeen in all!
- Coming Out Story: Paul and Greg.
- Distant Finale: Okay, maybe a few months in the future finale, but still.
- Dual-Meaning Chorus: "Nothing". For most of the song, the line "I'm feeling nothing" refers to Morales' problems with Method Acting; in the final repetition it expresses her apathy about the death of the Sadist Teacher who treated the Method as the only way to be an actor.
- Dysfunction Junction: Aside from the fact that they've chosen a job which by its very nature means they have all experienced unemployment, poverty, rejection and possibly injury, many of the dancers have traumatic backstories, including absent, estranged or disapproving parents, homophobia, sexual molestation, the death of family members, and bullying. No one is overly angsty about it though, and all of their experiences are based on the lives of real people.
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: "What I Did For Love."
- Girl Next Door: Maggie, Bebe.
- Growing Up Sucks: "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen."
- Hollywood Tone Deaf: Kristine, as demonstrated in her song "Sing!"
- Although true for a number of the replacement actresses, the original Kristine, Renee Baughman, was genuinely unable to stay on key.
- Ironically, on the original cast recording, Kristine's husband Al is pretty out of tune for most of the song as well.
- Informed Attractiveness: Bebe.
- Long Runners: This was the longest-running Broadway musical for some time.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "I Hope I Get It" and the montage. Actually, plenty of the musical is this.
- Method Acting: In her backstory, Diana Morales found the Method unsuitable, but had to face a Sadist Teacher who insisted it was the only way.
- Minsky Pickup: The show starts with this.
- Movie Bonus Song: 'Surprise, Surprise' (Academy Award nominated), and 'Let me dance for you.'
- Older Than They Look: Connie.
- Refrain From Assuming: Val's number was originally called 'Tits and Ass,' but was re-titled after the first line in the song to keep audiences from getting the joke. (In high school productions, the number is redubbed "This and That.")
- Roman à Clef: All of the characters are based on recorded interviews with real dancers. Some of the dancers, like Renee Baughman and Priscilla Lopez, were eventually cast as "themselves". Maggie's story actually belongs to Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie), while Paul's story was originally co-author Nicholas Dante's, and so forth.
- Running Gag: "The Year of the Chicken!"
- Sadist Teacher: Diana Morales tells the story of one from her drama school days in her number, "Nothing."
- The Voice: Zach, for most of the play. He spends almost the entire show in the audience, where the director would normally sit in an empty theater during auditions and rehearsals.