Sibling rivalry, puberty, sexuality.
The themes resonate 40 years after the play-within-a-play about Broadway dancers set off on its record-breaking run.
But student director Jackson Cooper says when he was 14 and listening to his first cast albums, “I really hated ‘A Chorus Line.’”
“This doesn’t sound like a musical,” he remembers thinking.
The singers weren’t falling in and out of love. They weren’t rhapsodizing about beautiful mornings in the Midwest.
They were struggling with adolescence: coming out, keeping secrets, worrying as one singer does in a song whose refrain we still can’t print when is she “gonna grow” ... uh, female parts.
Pauper Players, now in its 25th year, presents “A Chorus Line,” at 8 p.m. Friday through Monday at Historic Playmakers Theatre on the UNC campus.
The play, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, tells the stories of 17 singers and dancers auditioning for a Broadway chorus line.
The show is a departure for Pauper, which has not typically tackled shows with lots of dancing.
That changed when student choreographers George Barrett and Meleah Faucette proposed “A Chorus Line.” The Paupers board passed on the musical last year, but said yes when Cooper, a theater and business major from UNC-Greensboro, came on as director this year.
On Monday night, Barrett led cast members through “Huggy Bear,” an exercise in which the actors have to find and group hug those with the same number.
It’s a silly but important tradition. And it’s especially fitting for a show like “A Chorus Line” that lays bare the characters’ and perhaps the actors’ insecurities.
As the play unfolds, the actors grow from strangers competing with one another into a kind of family, almost like Paupers itself, says McKenzie Millican, one of the company’s three executive directors.
This is so fleeting. This show really poses the question, what are we doing this for?
McKenzie Millican, Pauper Players
“Everybody at UNC is just crazy busy all the time,” said Millican, a sociology major from Winston-Salem. “But whatever happens we consistently have a group of people who can spend 20 hours a week (rehearsing) with us in room 2518” of the Student Union.
“I think this form of theater fulfills a hole in a lot of people’s lives,” Millican said. “This is so fleeting. This show really poses the question, what are we doing this for?”
The red leotard
What they’re doing it for propels “The Music and the Mirror.”
In the song, Cassie, an older dancer auditioning after early solo success failed to repeat itself in LA, pleads with the director from an empty stage to consider her for the chorus line.
Play me the music.
Give me the chance to come through.
All I ever needed was the music, and the mirror,
And the chance to dance...
Sarah Gothard, 18, plays the pivotal role in her college theater debut.
“I knew Cassie because she’s always the girl in the red leotard,” said the Raleigh teenager, who credits Cooper with helping her convey a character twice her age.
But the scene – 10 minutes, including a 5 minute dance solo – is demanding physically too.
“It’s a lot of pressure to sing and dance then sing some more,” she said, but added, “I’ve only had to pull out my inhaler one time – a little bit of exercise-induced asthma.”
9 Tony awards
“A Chorus Line” opened at the Shubert Theatre on July 25, 1975, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. It won nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The original production ran for 6,137 performances, becoming the longest-running production in Broadway history until “Cats” surpassed it in 1997. It’s still the sixth longest-running Broadway show ever.
Cooper, who has worked on productions at UNC-G, Meredith College and UNC’s PlayMakers Repertory Company, eventually grew to love that cast album.
“A Chorus Line” is a snapshot in history, he said.
“The 1970s – very dark, very sexy, a no-holds-barred New York City that is really gone,” Cooper said.
And yet “it feels like it could have been written yesterday,” he said. “It really does.”
Pauper Players shows sometimes sell out at the door. For tickets, call 919-843-3333 or go to bit.ly/1NO79O0