Thirty years ago, give or take a month, I saw “A Chorus Line” on Broadway. Thirty-one years ago, I was introduced to the work of Stephen Sondheim by Todd London and Steve Gore, counselors at Harand Camp.
Tuesday night, I saw “Company” in New York, followed by a Wednesday matinee of “A Chorus Line.” The former was enthralling, the latter enjoyable, but I felt very old and very cynical, sitting in the midst of some snuffling NYU theater majors. What changed?
Well, the musical hasn’t changed at all. It’s still set in 1975. The costumes are the same. I don’t even notice a single lyric massaged for, I guess, political correctness’s sake. (In “Company,” the trio of girlfriends no longer rhyme drag/fag in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.” It’s now way/gay, IIRC.) (And I don’t have a problem with that, by the way. Changing the lyric, I mean. Lord, I wonder if “Finian’s Rainbow” can even be restaged at this point. Just thinking about “The Begat” makes me a little nervous.)
I’ve changed, of course. It would be pretty sad if I hadn’t. Older, I’m aware of several realities:
1) Few people get to do the thing that they love AND make a decent salary at it. Take most of the novelists in this country. I get up every day wondering if I can sustain myself until that magic day when I can go into my IRAs without penalty.
2) In 1975, if you were a high school graduate who bombed out as a dancer, you might, at least, be able to find a union job with benefits. Today . . . everyone’s life is uncertain. There are a lot of newspaper reporters who could be warbling “What I Did For Love” right now, and not because their knees gave out.
3) Come to think of it, isn’t that finale awfully spooky? I kept thinking there should have been people tap-dancing in the basement. By the way, if you get that reference — you’re a bigger theater geek than I am.
On the other hand, I was shocked/saddened to hear two young men — could have been late teens or early twenties — say to their grandfather (or much older father) of “Company”: “And how, exactly, did this musical change your life when you were 39?” Loneliness seemed a foreign concept to them. How can Bobby be so lonely? Doesn’t he have a MySpace account?
“Company” is mildly dated — a reference to “grass,” a male-on-male proposition that was probably much more shocking once upon a time. But its themes seem timeless to me, whereas the “everyone is special” message of “A Chorus Line,” is a run-up to the self-esteem movement. Don’t get the wrong idea; I still love it. But I love it in a different way.
One cavil: The part of Sheila is played by an African-American woman. Of course, it doesn’t make much difference, and why should it? But I thought producers should be aware that a line about Sheila’s hair, in which the director criticizes the style and asks her to release it from its upsweep — plays differently because of that change. That’s an extremely loaded thing for a white man to say to a black woman.
What do I remember about my first trip to see “A Chorus Line”? I went with my friend Dana Van Horne. Our parents put us on the train and picked us up that evening in downtown Baltimore. I bought the cast album of “Anyone Can Whistle” that day in New York. That was a big deal You see, before the Internet, it wasn’t always so easy to find such things, not at Harmony Hut in Baltimore.
I’m pretty sure I bought that album at Tower Records.
Anyone else have bookended experiences, similar events separated by decades?