Monday, March 31, 2008

The Music and the Mirror Pt 2

Okay, so you really shouldn't try to write a well thought out post so early in the morning. But I needed help falling asleep and writing really helped. But there is still a lot I wanted to say about A Chorus Line so I wanted to finish up this post.

So, I think one of the biggest reasons I have such a strong connection/reaction to the show is because it is like one of the only (if not the only) show that tells the story from the perspective of the dancer/performer. Theirs is a unique perspective because well, they're the ones that do all the performing. Especially the chorus. Sometimes, they're the ones who carry the numbers along, not the leads. Plus, there's always more of them right? But at the same time, they are definitely not the stars. They are regular people, just like the rest of us. Except they get paid to do what they truly love and they don't always make a lot doing it.

I mean, take for example the cast of the show. They had all just been mainly playing chorus parts in shows for most of their careers. And then suddenly Michael Bennett comes along and is like "I want to hear your story. Come to this group therapy session we're having and spill your guts about how you got to this point." And so the show was born. Some of those people are acting out their own life stories every night on that stage. It's like the uber catharsis. Until you get to the point where you've lived your story enough. But imagine what that's like. You get up on stage and tell your story to a willing audience. Or you tell someone else's story (that happens a few times in the show) but that person gets to hear their life come out of your mouth. It's really a beautiful process. And imagine the audience. They get to see what it really is to be a dancer in the chorus. How you got there, why you stay, how this became your life.

For these characters, dance was always an escape from their real life. It was sometimes their only safe place in the world. Or it was the solution to a fate worse than death (I can't help but think of Richie, the short black man who almost becomes a kindergarten teacher and the chorus singing "Shit Richie" behind him as he tells his story). I think the best example of this idea of escape is the song "At the Ballet" in which Sheila talks about her cheating father who never really put her or her mother first and Bebe talks about how her mother told her that she would never be conventionally pretty or beautiful and poor Maggie, who was born to save her parents' marriage and her dad left anyway. She dreams of a brave Indian chief who would dance her around the room. I think the lyrics that best sum up their feelings toward dance are:

"Up a steep and very narrow stairway,
To the voice like a metronome
Up a steep and very narrow stairway
It wasn't paradise, it wasn't paradise
But it was home."

I can definitely relate to that on a personal level. I mean, my mother was a dancer. I took my first steps at a dance studio. To me, dancing school was always the safest place in the world. When my dad wouldn't come home for a few days, I could go to dancing school and that wouldn't matter. When I had a fight with a friend, I could dance it out. When I was happy, I could celebrate. Birthdays, holidays and Fridays were always celebrated. My senior year of high school, I went back to dancing regularly after years and it felt like I had come home. All of my oldest friends were there and they were always my safe haven. When I was going through a lot of deeply personal shit, those were the girls I turned to so that I could forget. We would laugh and argue and dance occasionally and it was the perfect ending to what may wasn't always the perfect day or even the perfect week.

But if you're going to talk about escapism as a large theme in A Chorus Line, you have to talk about Cassie. Cassie is all about escapism. That is the whole premise of "The Music and the Mirror." The song opens:

"Give me somebody to dance for,
Give me somebody to show.
Let me wake up in the morning to find
I have somewhere exciting to go

To have something I can believe in
To have something to be
Use me...choose me."

As I'm writing this post, I'm talking to a friend who is also an A Chorus Line enthusiast as myself and we are dialogging about all of these key themes. I feel like she's said it more eloquently than I can put it so I'm paraphrasing almost exactly. But keep in mind, I share these opinions. If you think about it, this particular song is all about the passion. It is also about the need to be needed. Frankly, I feel that no one is more needy than performers. Maybe doctors but not really. Performers need to know that there is an audience for them to perform for. We like to feel needed. But that need is a driving force of the show. These dancers need this job. Not just for the money, but for themselves. Dance is their passion. They need to express themselves. Dance is the ultimate form of expression. I mean, Cassie states it pretty clearly.

"God, I'm a dancer,
A dancer dances!

Give me a job and you instantly get me involved
If you give me a job
Then the rest of the crap will get solved
Put me to work
You would think by now I'm allowed
To do you proud

Play me the music
Give me a chance to come through
All I ever needed
Was the music and the mirror
And the chance to dance..."

Okay, I think it got it all summed up. Passion. Cassie = dance = passion. Got it? Yes? Moving on to probably one of the best known songs from the show, "What I Did For Love." You know you know this song. I can sing it in my sleep. And I actually have. I had a dream once that I was in front of a crowd singing this. That's all I'm gonna say.

Well, the prompt in the play for this song is "If today were the day that you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?" I think though, that this song is incredibly relateable, no matter what the cue line is in real life. Everyone has a passion. I don't believe that there are passionless people in this world. I refuse to believe it. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to do their passion every day like a dancer or an actor is but let's just think about this for a second. There's a beautiful generality in this song that I don't think is in any other song. Except for maybe "I Hope I Get It." Funny how they're at the opposite ends of the show huh? But let's look at the opening of "What I Did For Love" shall we?

"Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can't regret
What I did for love..."

Let's examine this for a second. Kiss today goodbye. You can never go back to this moment. It has passed, it is over. The sweetness and the sorrow. Well, every passion has its highs and lows right? It can't always be sunshine and roses. But you take the good with the bad. Wish me luck, the same to you. Pretty self explanatory. But I can't regret what I did for love. You can't look back on the sacrifices you've made in the name of your passion. If I had to stop acting today, I wouldn't look back on it all as a waste, even though I never made a dime or got any recognition for what I've done. I've gotten to do my passion for a long time and I've loved every minute of it. You can't cry and you can't think negatively. It has to be a positive thought. As my friend so brilliantly put it, "its a beautiful song about saying goodbye to regret. which is such a weird thing to do but it happens. it's bittersweet."

But you know, with great power comes great responsibility. This song is almost too general. It can be taken extremely out of context. Not just to apply to other things beside dance, but to horribly obvious things. Like lost love like it is in the movie version of A Chorus Line (ps: don't see the movie. it is severly disspointing. the only plus is Cassie is played by Alyson Reed who plays Ms. Darbus in the High School Musical franchise. But don't see the movie. You'll thank me)

So, to sum up everything I think I've said quite eloquently here, A Chorus Line is about passion. Its about finding escape in your passion and it's about life beyond the stage. Please, I do urge all to utilize the clips I've added (there will be more at the end of this post) and find the music, see the show (not the movie) and love it as much as I do. I'm going to end this with the rest of the lyrics of "What I Did For Love."

"Look my eyes are dry
The gift was ours to borrow
Its as if we always knew
And I won't forget what I did for love
What I did for love

Gone, love is never gone
As we travel on
Love's what we'll remember

Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love...."

The original cast reflects on the show 15 years later
*this is from the Phil Donahue show in 1990. it had just been announced that the show was closing and at the time it was the longest running show in the history of Broadway. It's in 7 parts but please watch the whole thing. It's beautiful and enlightening.
The Cast performs "One" at the 1976 Tony Awards
*not the full song but you get the point. everyone needs to see this*

1 comment:

saeed shabazz said...

Never saw A Chorus Line, never paid any attention to any of the songs, etc.; but the concept of your analysis, in my opinion, may very well transcend what the author of the play had in mind.
I know that dancing school was in many ways a haven for you, and very often your mother's, I personally hated the place because of where it was -- the people in charge -- I wanted you to attend Alvin Ailey's school, but what did I konw. I even wanted you to use dance for your high school and college auditions -- you chose acting, which was synonomous with your very being, since you decided it was time to leave your mother's womb and enter this beautiful world of ours.