The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Due next: Rent

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Chorus Line

December 9, 1985,  Columbia  118 minutes

The moment I heard something exciting was happening with Michael Bennett's new and experimental show down at the Public, I ran to Astor Place and scored two tix for me & Bill. It was April 1975, I was 22 years old, living in Manhattan--and among the lucky few who got in to see the decade's ultimate phenom musical while it was still downtown. Yet in truth it was even more exciting once it re-opened at the Shubert in July. I ran to it another three times within the first few months. A Chorus Line had that rare Bway excitement generated only once or twice a decade; a South Pacific, a My Fair Lady, a Hair, a Rent, a Hamilton. I had my own break-thru that summer, talking myself into a job, working for Bway producer Saint Subber; so I was likewise living a dream, or to quote one of Edward Kleban's lyrics: "And now life really begins." A Chorus Line was unlike anything that came before it, and was not really a good model for shows to follow afterward. A meta-musical that wasn't "inside" on the idea of being a musical, yet was the very deconstruction of one--tho with razor focus on only one aspect of putting it together: the chorus. Four & four--that's what they're seeking, just 4 boys & 4 girls, quite a reduction from the Golden Age ensembles, which commonly had 14 or 16 dancers, and then another 14 singers as well--the groups rarely asked to pull double duty. Economics changed all that by the '70s--and yet, somewhat ironically, Chorus Line is a lie, for it doesn't really end with 8 gypsies on stage, but 28--all to serve that missing "One," becoming instead, in their sum total, their own singular sensation.

The show did have it's own "Star," or Star part, which elevated Bennett's prize dancer, Donna McKechnie to genuine Bway stardom, going so far as to win the Tony over both Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera--in iconic roles themselves (Fosse was furious to see his Chicago over-shadowed by Bennett.) Yet technically, Cassie, with her one solo spot is as much a supporting role as any other in the show. But the triumph of Bennett's longtime Trilby was such a giddy goldrush the two friends even married (for a brief period) tho it was obviously platonic, if plushly platium.

Aside from McKechnie, who I'd seen in both Company and Promises, Promises, the one cast member known to me was Baayork Lee a petite Chinese/Indian dancer who made her Bway debut in The King & I at the age of five, and grew up thru Flower Drum Song, Mr. President, Here's Love, and Golden Boy. She met Bennett dancing Michael Kidd's Macy's Day Parade in Here's Love, and he hired her on his first three shows as choreographer: A Joyful Noise, Henry Sweet Henry (still playing an adolescent) and Promises--as part of a trio with McKechnie in the whiplash "Turkey Lurkey" number. She was also in his reboot of Seesaw (used in contrast to towering Tommy Tune--another Bennett prodigy.) The rest of Chorus Line's gypsies were all new to me; the statuesque Carole (later Kelly) Bishop, who played the lovable bitch, Sheila, to perfection--and a Tony win (as featured actress); the saucy Latina,  Morales, Priscilla Lopez (also nominated), whose solos were more vocal than balletic, leading the show's major ballad, "What I Did for Love," on top of her comic charm song, "Nothing." The unabashed "tits & ass" blonde, Pamela Blair; "At the Ballet"s Kay Cole. The men were for the most part, less memorable. Sure, Sammy Williams' Tony winning turn as Paul (embodying co-author Nicholas Dante's story) and Robert Lupone's Zach (the 5th and final nominee) shared prominence; the latter an effective villain (if the show had one), but Wayne Cilento and Thomas J. Walsh had less impact outside of dancing and, fittingly, both went on to steady careers in choreography. In retrospect, it's a bit surprising that none of the boys in the show ever took my fancy, given my youthful fantasy of a Bway gypsy boyfriend, and my occasional infatuation with one or another. (I'm talkin' about you, John Mineo, Scott Wise, Robert Wersinger, Curtis Holbrook, Jay Armstrong Johnson. OK--so they still catch my eye--sue me.) Given my inclination to dance, from my earliest exposure to the Moiseyev tradition as well as Bway, I can only assume my well-coddled childhood weaknesses (asthma, allergies) as well as a general sports-aversion kept me from ever seriously persuing a dancer's life. In fact, I've kept away from dance for most of my life with a sort of perverse and willful self-denial. Except for a brief period in the late '80s, when I'd drive down to Santa Monica to a large mirrored studio that held an open floor for would-be Isadora's and every other solo expressionist in need of movement: Dance Home. The music varied from rock to reggae to classical and was--in the right mood--a fun, exhilarating, sweat- and endorphin- filled solo Saturday evening--for only $6.

Perhaps there's a inner-dancer in most of us, even if only metaphorically, which accounts for the enormous popularity of A Chorus Line. The show ran on Bway twice as long as any in history up till then--15 years. And volumes have been written about every aspect of it--except perhaps for the movie, which pretty much everyone wishes to forget. It was inevitable that there would be one, and just as inevitable that it would be impossible to do right. Bennett was naturally first considered. Was another film auteur like Fosse waiting to bloom? Columbia--which paid a record $15 million for the show--hired Bway producers Feuer & Martin to produce the film, but discussions with Bennett had already ended by then. Allegedly, Bennett's concept was to make the story an audition for a movie musical rather than one for Bway--which on the surface sounds like a rational adaptation, but the reality was that no film version could ever capture the visceral theatricalness of the show. (Ethan Mordden makes a case that Bennett proved his cinematic acumen by taking charge of the show's segment on the '76 Tony broadcast.) What with companies touring and settling in for runs everywhere, including the Shubert Theater's flagship production, there was no urgency to get it up on screen without considering many options. In the end veteran screenwriter Arnold Schulman (Love with the Proper Stranger; Goodbye, Columbus; Funny Lady) was assigned to the task. But we knew it was doomed when Richard Attenborough was announced as director. The British actor-turned-helmer had the clout to take on Hlwd after his Oscar win for Gandhi, and this was his next challenge. But Sir Richard wasn't particularly inventive--Gandhi was really just an exercise in logistical planning rather than a dent into David Lean territory. His first film as director was actually a musical, of sorts, Oh, What a Lovely War. And subsequent movies all had some connection with British culture and influence. But not A Chorus Line. It was a curious choice. Hadn't they learned from previous mismatches like John Huston and Sidney Lumet? Attenborough betrayed his understanding of the musical, by saying it was about a bunch of kids trying to break into show-business--which ignited Kelly Bishop's ire as much as publicly possible in a pre-Twitter universe.

Further news wasn't encouraging. Michael Douglas wanted to play Zach--and Columbia took the bait, likely as insurance against their $15 million investment. They might have gone whole hog on the All-Star route: Liza as Cassie; Cher as Sheila; Bette Midler as Diana; Jessica Lange as Val; with spots for Jennifer Beals, Debra Winger, Nastassja Kinski, Teri Garr, Lesley Ann Warren--the possibilities are many; Travolta, Robby Benson, Kevin Bacon, Ralph Macchio as Paul. In a way it would've been a better travesty: a camp classic for all time instead of a justifiably forgotten mistake. Attenborough's cast is in line with the usual "unknowns," many from various stage productions around the country, none from the original cast. Alyson Reed was a minor Bway figure, coming off her big featured break as Marilyn, a notorious flop--long before the Shaiman/Wittman version in NBC's Smash. Her solace was getting Cassie, a role beefed up in Schulman's screenplay. Saddled with a frumpy wardrobe (seriously?) and less than flattering haircut, she doesn't really shine. Unlike her character, Reed didn't crawl back to Bway after her less-than-breakthru film debut, but stayed and forged an acting career in over 70 roles on TV.

Instead of being an exceptional or "definitive" cast, the pic resembles nothing so much as a lesser road company, with few standouts. One is Zach's associate, Terrence Mann (fresh from Bway's Cats), who has a lot more screen-time and audience empathy than Michael Douglas--a curious outcome, but welcome nonetheless. As "I Can Do That"-Mike, Charles McGowan dances well but has Sylvester Stallone's droopy face--which remains maddeningly blank, even upon being chosen. The opposite is true of Matt West's ecstatic Bobby--whose acting is noticeably better than his dancing. The two blatantly straight males, waiter/dad, Don (Blane Savage) and the just-married, Al (Tony Fields--looking too much like a grease monkey and dancing with a Tom Jones swagger) are overplayed as sad-sack and dim-witted, respectively. But Gregg Burge (one of only two who ever played the show on Bway) brings a sparkplug energy to Richie in the new era of Michael Jackson. Tho it didn't register at the time, it seems a bit odd that A Chorus Line has only one black member, one Asian and two Latinos--not the picture of diversity you'd expect. For Paul--whose monologue gives the musical a sort of catharsis as well as some breathing room before the build-up to the finale--they chose a dancer from TV's Fame, Cameron English, whose good looks seemed as much a factor, perhaps unconsciously, to build appeal in his favor. Paul's private confession to Zach was a heartbreaking moment  in the show--and  something  of  a 
breakthru for a gay character on Bway. I thought time had diluted its impact when I saw the 2006 Bway revival: after all, drag isn't considered the shit-hole of show-biz anymore; and tho Paul's parents may have been stunned in discovering his act they don't renounce or condemn him even then. But then, the core of his story isn't victimization, but self-shame. And that never really goes out of style. The pic stacks the deck in making sure we think he's a hunk. But the one who surprised and moved me the most is "the kid," Mark. Michael Blevin's youthful enthusiasm radiates so genuinely it triggers memories of my own, to the point of tears. Whatsmore his dancing takes my eye more than other boy on the line.  He's dandy.
On the distaff side, Yasmin Borges is an uninspired Diana Morales, and even more so is Audrey Landers' Val, whose performance of "Tits & Ass" is as underwhelming as her physical attributes, which don't comport with the message of the song. More so than on stage--which after all keeps the audience at some distance--Val needs to be the knockout she declares herself to be; but here she's hardly any better looking than Michelle Johnston's self-proclaimed "not beautiful" Bebe--who grew on me more than the other girls. Landers' casting seems more of the couch rather than talent variety. Johnston, who was barely 20, did go on to a successful career as a choreographer, with nearly 30 credits in TV & film. One who might have been  expected to do  as  well,  but  hasn't  is  Nicole  Fosse 
(daughter of Bob Fosse & Gwen Verdon) who demonstrates little of the family genius--and looks, alas, more like Dad than Mom. Cast, perhaps unfortunately, as the vocally -- challenged Kristine, the movie eliminates her song ("Sing") but then saddles her with a (deliberately?) irritating speaking voice as an unecessary point of "character." At any rate, we've not heard from the prodigal child since. I also didn't warm to El Paso Judy (jokingly "Marilyn") Monroe, changed from Turner--because who knew from Lana Turner by 1985. Neither Jan Gan Boyd's Connie, nor Pam Klinger's Maggie leave much impression, which leaves the real standout, Vicki Frederick's Sheila. A veteran of the show on Bway, as well as others under the supervision of Bob Fosse (Pippin, Dancin') and Michael Kidd (The Rothschilds), Frederick has the right air of haughtiness and maturity--in moments of frustration or despair she strongly suggests a young Geraldine Page--with the potential of becoming  Elaine Stritch. "Does anyone . . . still wear a thong?"

But Hlwd's biggest mistake by far was the very thing Michael Bennett told Cy Feuer to avoid: making the show about Cassie & Zach. As a vanity production for Michael Douglas it couldn't be any other way. Who knows why he felt so drawn to the role--and was he even that big a star in '83 to highjack a once-in-a-decade Bway phenomenon? And while it's not fair to say he's entirely responsible for the movie's failure, he sure doesn't help.
So the cast is less than stellar, let alone definitive. But the show's the thing and much can be forgiven if done well. The film opens promisingly with cattle call auditions in full force--showing possible cinematic acumen thru the opening and "I Hope I Get It"--which ends without its signature resume-fronted line. And there's no getting around the fact that Bob Fosse had done this same sort of sequence so well already using the R&B "On Broadway" at the start of All That Jazz. That opening is really the whole of A Chorus Line's content. The musical's numbers vary from inner monologues to oral confessions with specialty bits, to production numbers built around an unseen, unknown star.  On stage it was one thing to have actors break into song; on screen, shifts from scene to pre-recorded song are audibly jarring--"I Can Do That," "Nothing," "Dance 10, Looks 3" sound horribly canned. Cassie's new song, "Let Me Dance With You," a substitute for "The Music & the Mirror" begs the question of why they bothered. The two songs are so similar as to be interchangeable. Kleban & Hamlisch wrote one other for the film, "Surprise, Surprise" for Richie to replace his "Gimme the Ball." This becomes a sort of fantasy production number; very early MTV. But again, was this necessary? It did win Hamlisch & Kleban an Oscar nom (Lionel Richie's "Say You Say Me" won that year). But "At the Ballet" "Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love" (which is severely cut, not eliminated as is often erroneously reported) and "One" are not without interest--even if they could've been much better. Attenborough's approach was to plant cameras at every conceivable angle, and then assemble it in the cutting room. But the choreography here (Jeffrey Hornaday by way of Flashdance & Michael Bennett) is poorly respected by the nervous editing--which instead of highlighting their talents, suggests the dancers aren't as good as they should be. Surely that's true of "Let Me Dance With You," which instead of being just a dazzling audition piece, becomes a trail of memories for Cassie & Zach--who appears barefoot in a bathrobe to twirl Cassie about his loft, putting to rest any credibility of his being a dancer. Douglas plays Zach as a one-note asshole. For most of the film he sits at a work desk in the theater's orchestra barking orders in the shadows, lit by a work lamp. Half the time he shuffles papers, speaks with his assistant (such a busy man!) and looks so distracted or bored--cutaways that also cut us away from the cast and their stories as they're telling them. The only time he perks up, smiling (leering?) with attention is for Val's "Tits & Ass." Just as tiresome is the labored progress of Cassie, from taxi to theater, to various waiting rooms before she can approach Zach, with the occasional flashback to their mentor/muse past. It's deadly and unecessary: Dante & Kirkwood's stage script tells us all we need to know about their past without belaboring it. And giving Cassie "What I Did for Love" as a solo is further proof that the powers that be didn't understand the show at all. What was really an anthem to artistic devotion and  passion--unanimously shared by the whole group--became a limp eulogy for a romance. One we couldn't care less about. (And where is she going--heading up staggering flights of metal stairs? Climb Every Mountain by another name.)

The song was the musical's only crossover number, and in line with Marvin's then-recent Oscar-winning tune, "The Way We Were." One wonders why (or if) Streisand wasn't asked to record it. At any rate Eydie Gorme didn't hesitate--tho of course that consigned it to a more adult audience, one that didn't rate Billboard top ten status. But the song is also a needed relief-valve from the long build up to the show's climax, dividing "One" from rehearsal to full-out Finale. Above all others in the show, "One" is a song that has to work --not least because we hear it repeated so many times. But it makes its own case as a classic production number without reeking of parody. The counter-melody is saved for the Finale, and tho for the most part Ed Kleban's colloquial lyrics are spot on, a passage heretofore never deciphered by my ear, has been identified as thus:

               Stroll-ing/Can't/Help
               All of her qualities
               Extol-ling
               Loaded with charisma is ma jauntily
               sauntering, ambling shambler.

Come again? Is this not the sloppiest mess? I think it's given a pass because it's uttered so rapidly no one hears it. But I defy anyone to tell me what it means.

The film was made inside the glorious Mark Hellinger theater, which for seven years held privileged audiences in thrall to My Fair Lady. In moments of boredom I found myself drifting into the "scenery," imagining the enchanted nights spent within these walls. Oddly, the brief exteriors were filmed outside the 45th St. stage entrance to the Majestic. Given the uneven, unartful filming & editing, one wonders if Bob Fosse could have translated what was unique on stage into cinema--as he did with Cabaret. (And how funny that his own daughter is somehow there infiltrating Bennett's masterwork.) There are certainly hints of Fosse in the "One" sequence, as it grows darker in rehearsal. But for the most part, Attenborough's eye is a good deal more plebian. A corrective of sorts, was made as a documentary around the casting process for the 2006 Bway revival: Every Little Step--which also covered the original show's creation & legacy. The musical numbers are reduced to bits but a truer picture of the actual casting process is achieved with a fresh element of suspense. 

No doubt much discussion went into the selection of the original 4 + 4 finalists--which after all is the effective climax of the show. Upon seeing the musical the first time, we wondered if Zach's choices were fluid from show to show--as valid an option as any, and one that would give the cast as well as the audience a dose of unpredictability. But no, the authors made a definite narrative choice, altho, at first Cassie was not among them. After an early preview, Marsha Mason, of all people, told Bennett that cutting Cassie was too harsh--and once that was adjusted (but who was cut instead?) the audience floated out on a cloud of bliss. For the most part, the choices reflect the dancers with the larger solos. Presumbably Paul would've made the cut if he wasn't rushed to the ER. As far as our emotional investment, Sheila is the one that shocks/hurts the most; but we know she's one tough cookie--and that's the way it crumbles on Bway. The movie pans down the faces of the final 8 as they process the news, in pride, delirium, shock & joy--the last, happy/grateful face Cassie's. But they're not content with ending there. No, Zach has to lust after her anew, signalling the resumption of their romance. Bleeach.

On stage, the "One" finale was really an extended curtain call; the bows taken as they appear, one by one, in gold tuxedos and top hats--building the number into its final kick line image. It's one of musical comedy's greatest moments--a rush of exhilaration that's rarely equaled. Inclusion in the film was a foregone conclusion, even tho it makes less narrative sense in this context. Still, what's A Chorus Line without it, and they do it justice on screen. 
Beginning with the final 8 (as would be seen in the fictional musical--still without a star fronting), the second verse brings in the rest of the line (including the recovered Paul) which then doubles and doubles again, eventually filling the Hellinger stage with a crowd, not unlike the masses of alumnae gathered for the celebratory shows at the Shubert, upon becoming the longest running show in Bway history. Wisely they confined this to a real Bway stage and not a Busby Berkeley-sized studio hangar. 
Tho well-conceived or imaginative moments are few (simply panning the camera down the line would be a huge bonus now & then) and a low percentage of the cast makes much of an impression, the musical's inherent energy and group numbers manage to make some impact. These parts are really much more watchable than we remember, tempting us to say, It's not that bad! But whenever the movie shifts to Zach or Cassie and their tiresome backstory, as it too often does, the film simply tanks.

Even after a decade on Bway, the release of the movie did nothing to restrain its run--which continued for another four and a half years--in itself longer than the original runs of The Sound of Music or Hair--and long after the picture was mostly forgotten. The movie opened the week of my 33rd birthday, and I saw it Friday, December 13th in Century City--having just moved to West Hollywood. In 1985, after seven long, eventful years in SF, I was ready for a major change. In February TC & I flew down to LA to stay with his cousin in the deep bowels of Laurel Canyon. It was Grammy week, and LA--so unlike SF--was awash in self-promotion for music, movies, TV. It felt like the Center of the Universe, and on this trip we both decided to shake up our lives and move to where The Industry was. Me as a writer, TC to pursue an acting career. Like a pregnancy (during which we broke up), it took us nine months to make the transition, during which I relished a bittersweet long goodbye with San Francisco. Meantime, the conversion of my Bergman/Fellini film, Hiroshima Beachparty, into a stage play was embraced by Laura and her newest network, an East-Village collective called WOW (Women One World), and given a production green light, with Laura directing. Prior to rehearsals, I came to NY in April. It was a dismal time on Bway--which was then reaching the absolute nadir for the musical. Spring brought all of 3 offerings: a jukebox tuner of Ellie Greenwich pop hits, Leader of the Pack; a sad backstager of a depression-era burlesque house, Grind; and the default Tony winner and sole (soft) hit, a regional theater-quality adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, by country-musician Roger Miller: Big River. Given that it was directed by Hal Prince I chose to see Grind--but the  show only validated  my belief that the 
Bway musical was, if not dead, then in a deep coma. Plays were more of a draw: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Pack of Lies, Joe Egg. But I was really more of a downtown guy at the time. Dinner at the Odeon, shopping at Trash & Vaudeville, nights at a bar called Bar. And so it was promptly on my return to SF that Desperately Seeking Susan opened to our little expectation and became a shining totem of "Downtown" and what that vibe meant to us Urban '80s strugglers. I was so taken with the movie (and with the complete 180 of the Laurie Metcalf from Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead; not to mention the soft eroticism of Aidan Quinn and his liquid blue eyes.) that I quickly saw it mutltiple times. This is all to say I was primed for my return to the East Village six weeks later, with entourage in tow (TC, Tim, Darcey, Martha & Chuck) to see Hiroshima Beachparty staged and played to a virgin audience. Laura had managed to bring in a good deal of sand to suggest the setting, and tho regrettably she didn't play the part written for her (as her replacement was nowhere as good) she did cast Reno in the right role and pull out of her an amazingly subtle and true performance. There was another actress in the play, Kathryn, with whom Laura had begun an affair, and the breakup with Reno had taken all the drama offstage and made the experience painful for all concerned. The show itself was fine, well received and played a few performances more before consigned to the unwritten history of Off-Off Bway. Keeping out of the emotional firestorm around Laura, my loyal traveling companions & I teased our hair, put on makeup, snorted some coke (well, it was the '80s) and went out on the town, wading thru the queing throngs outside Area--the era's hottest club--to be immediately chosen by the bouncers for entry. At least that's how we remember it. Later near dawn, Tim got something stuck in his ear which led to us to trying a vacuum cleaner to get it out. We still laugh about that one. And the way TC--at Odeon--used his finger to butter bread, in his classic way of absent-mindedness. Oh, the places we went! We did manage to get to a couple of other plays as well: Salonika at the Public, which began with a beauteous Maxwell Caulfied splayed fully naked on the sand. That my eyes were soon riveted instead on Jessica Tandy speaks volumes about her magic as an actress. Our final night we caught the first AIDS play on Bway: As Is--now mostly forgotten, but quite beautiful and affecting at the time. And motivation for me to continue writing.

Waiting out my last (typically frigid) summer in San Francisco I was soon hard at work on another overly ambitious project: a series of 12 one-act plays about various characters in SF; each set in a different neighborhood. The idea was to let theaters chose any three for an evening; sort of like Noel Coward's Tonight at 8:30. Collectively I called it La Nuda Verita. My goal was to write them quickly, one a month. I got thru a good five or six, and mapped out a few more, but the project--which yielded some very interesting material--disintegrated once I made the move, as I was truly over SF, and couldn't continue to revisit it--even if just on paper. Instead I dove into the LA vibe.

In September TC went to scout housing, while I played out my final SF weeks--immersed in writing, in closure with friends, in wrapping up a brief affair; in watching Knots Landing (Heddie had turned me on to its "Wagnerian intensity"); and in my obsession with Talking Heads' "Little Creatures" album. In short and miraculous order, TC found a house in West Hollywood, the heart of the Design District, just off Beverly & Robinson--a 3-bedroom Spanish bungalow two doors from a low-key Hamburger Hamlet, for only $700 a month. Thru my employers at Books Inc. I was handed over to a sister store, Hunters in Westwood. Thus, I had a job and a home before even packing. The final piece was buying a car--my first, a brand new '86 Honda hatchback. We packed a U-Haul, sedated my imperious cat, Louis; quarreled with our anal landlord over the cleaning deposit and (with our friend, Martha) headed down in two vehicles to LA on Halloween--as winter & darkness descended on SF. LA was still warm and would be for weeks ahead. We sat outside in T-shirts that first weekend at a Bruce Springsteen concert in the Coliseum. I was back on home turf, Southern California. One weekend soon after I took TC over the hill into the Valley and back to my old childhood home on Schoolcraft St. in Canoga Park. My seminal housewives, Dodo and Esther had moved, but Gloria Milano was still living next door, and greeted us suspiciously until she recognized the boy she knew half his lifetime ago and, ripping curlers out of her hair, invited us in for some RC Cola. It was delightful to hear her gurgling, infectious laugh again, tho now it was more frequently interrupted by a hacking cough, as she lit up another cigarette. From her kitchen I could see my old bedroom window, the high one thru which I would peek whenever Gloria's contagious roar--heard thru the walls--would tickle me with delight. Such a jolly, happy Italian family they were, unlike my dour, serious, typically Russian parents. From that bedroom my dreams of Bway were launched and stoked over 5,000 nights; dreams that propelled me to NY seeking a world that was already slipping away. By 1985 Bway was no longer a shining lure, it was Grind. Now I was back in the land I had once longed to escape. I had come full circle, my sights now set on becoming the next Billy Wilder, not Harold Prince.

If my grasp of Hlwd history wasn't as complete as my knowledge of Bway, I soon remedied that. Old, classic and once unattainable movies were suddenly available to one & all with the  introduction of the VCR--which triggered an avalanche of monthly film releases. Much as I'd done several times over with Bway, I began a chronological study of cinema, from the advent of sound onward--the local video store my frequent stop. TC ceded the third bedroom to my office, where I set up my music, my books and soon had my first, primitive personal computer--which was just a word processor, with an excruciatingly slow dot-matrix printer. It sure beat manually typing and re-typing pages. And the freedom of my own wheels! Of course you needed them in LA, unlike SF or NY, just to get to the studios or the beach, let alone going to work--zipping down the tony Wilshire corridor windows open in the perennial warmth. I was still a lowly bookstore clerk, albeit in the rarefied air of Westwood & UCLA, which brought in college kids and affluent adults and once, in face mask & sunglasses, Michael Jackson, who stacked up three columns of remaindered books, while his bodyguards lurked in the corners. Inevitably I'd run into stars all over town. I saw Julie Newmar--Julie Newmar!--parking her red Thunderbird at my health food store. Minutes after spotting Andrea Martin in Century City I drove by Catherine O'Hara on Rodeo Drive. While paying a ticket at Beverly Hills city hall, I rode in an elevator with Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was in court for slapping a cop. Oh, the encounters we had! With fresh eyes I drove everywhere, finding the Spanish house from Double Indemnity; the shabby apartment where Carol Burnett spent her troubled youth; the renown Roxbury Drive block that once housed Lucy & Desi, Jack Benny, Jose Ferrer & Rosemary Clooney and Dinah Shore. LA doesn't let you forget it's an Industry town. Billboards everywhere tout its product--movies, music, TV--a sort of corporate graffiti of ambition, money, fame. A constant reminder and fuel for the dreams of countless wannabes. I had little doubt that some day soon I'd be residing in one of those mansions north of Sunset, churning out movies with the regularity of Woody Allen, and having dinner with Julie Newmar. But for now, of course, I was just another hopeful, like those kids in A Chorus Line, eager for that first job: I Hope I Get It.

Next Up: Little Shop of Horrors

 Report Card:  A Chorus Line
Overall Film:  C+
Bway Fidelity:  B-
Songs from Bway:  8
Songs Cut from Bway:  5
New Songs: 
Standout Numbers:  Opening/"I Hope I Get It"
               "One" (Rehearsal & Finale)
Casting:  Uninspired, uneven, fatal leads
Standout Cast: Vicki Frederick, Terrence Mann
               Michael Blevins, Michelle Johnston
Sorethumb Cast: Michael Douglas
Cast from Bway:  (replacements only): Vicki     Frederick, Gregg Burgee
Direction:  Literal, unimaginative
Choreography:  Viva Las Vegas
Scenic Design:  Mark Hellinger Theater
Costumes:  Dancewear/Gold finale outfits
Titles:  Over opening scenes/end credits
Oscar noms: 3, Sound Mixing, Film Editing,  
   Song: "Surprise, Surprise" Marvin Hamlisch 
   & Edward Kleban

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