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Synopsis

Who doesn’t know this story? No curtain, a bare stage with a line painted across it, a dance mirror that comes and goes. Final auditions for dancers in a never-named Broadway show: twenty-four hopefuls will be cut down to eight, four “boys” and four “girls.” And that’s the suspense, sort of like The Towering Inferno without the special effects, wondering if your favorite will be picked off. The only background you need is that the market for New York show dancers is (was, always will be) drying up. Age and injuries give these “kids” the professional lifespan of a pro football player. They live on part-time jobs and unemployment checks, No wonder each is secretly chanting “I Hope I Get It.” Zach (Robert LuPone) will make the choices. Looks and dance are what count, but he also wants (as never in real auditions) to know something about each of the dancers. The dancers can’t believe it; they don’t want to talk about themselves; but one by one, under pain of dismissal, they tell their stories, Mike (Wayne Cilento) is an Italian kid from Trenton, NJ. He tagged along to his sister’s dance classes, told himself “I Can Do That.” For a lot of the women, it started with ballet lessons, which provided either a refuge from, or a substitute for, what was going on at home, as Sheila (Carole Bishop), Bebe (Nancy Lane) and Maggie (Kay Cole) tell us: “At the Ballet.” Al (Don Percassi) and Kristine (Renee Baughman) are husband and wife; Al habitually finishes her sentences. Like everyone else, Kristine always dreamed of seeing herself in the movies, but as Doris Day, not Ann Miller. The only problem is, she can’t “Sing.” The conversation turns to sex, love, growing up, in “Montage (a.k.a. Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love),” in which nearly everyone participates. On stage the number runs about fifteen minutes but was shortened in the original recording sessions. This CD reissue restores almost two minutes of music and dialogue to the segment, now more clearly made up of three parts: “Hello Twelve,” “Mother,” and “Gimme the Ball.” The final section of “Montage” – still set apart here – gives us the memories of Diana Morales (Priscilla Lopez), a girl from the Bronx who got into the High School of Performing Arts but ran afoul of her Stanislavsky-crazed drama teacher, for whom she could feel “Nothing.” The, er, keys to success in landing dance jobs are now bluntly spelled out for us by Val (Pamela Blair), in the song that all the world knows by another name but here goes by “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three.” We’ve seen early on that Zach knows some of these dancers already. What we don’t know until well along is that Zach used to be involved with Cassie (Donna McKechnie); she left because all he cared about was his work (which strikes painfully close to McKechnie and Michael Bennett’s failed real-life marriage). Now, having failed in her efforts to graduate to acting parts in Hollywood, Cassie has come back to New York, desperate for work, any work, and swearing to her ex-lover that all she needs is “The Music and the Mirror.” Not here, but impossible to neglect, is Sammy Williams’s monologue as Paul, a Puerto Rican kid who worked in a drag show, and recounts the story of the day his parents found out. From the moment he recalls how his father told the show’s producer, “Take care of my son,” the audience wants Paul to succeed most of all. The group has long since dwindled from twenty-four to sixteen; the final cutdown approaches, as Zach takes the dancers through the new show’s big number, “One,” Hamlisch and Kleban’s clever spoof of (or thrilling tribute to) those colossal Jerry Herman showstoppers of the sixties. And Paul goes down with a knee injury. As he’s taken off to a hospital, through with dancing for now, maybe forever, Zach asks the remaining company what they’d do if today were the day they had to stop dancing. Regret nothing, Diana answers for all: “What I Did for Love,” the torchy “11 o’clock number” that is this show’s most enduring pop favorite. At the very last moment, with no time for sentiment or anything else, Zach announces his decisions: Diana, Cassie, Mike, and Val are among the lucky ones. As the unchosen walk off, the music starts again, and we see what they’ve been working toward: a full-blown reprise of “One,” all glitter and top hats. They’re brilliant, yet we see them as the audience never will because on stage the still-absent star will outshine them. A singular sensation, all right.

– Marc Kirkeby

Credits

Roy: Scott Allen Kristine: Renee Baughman Sheila: Carole (Kelly) Bishop Val: Pamela Blair Mike: Wayne Cilento Butch: Chuck Cissel Larry: Clive Clerk Maggie: Kay Cole Richie: Ronald Dennis Tricia: Donna Drake Tom: Brandt Edwards Judy: Patricia Garland Lois: Carolyn Kirsch Don: Ron Kuhlman Bebe: Nancy Lane Connie: Baayork Lee Diana: Priscilla Lopez Zach: Robert LuPone Mark: Cameron Mason Cassie: Donna McKechnie Al: Don Percassi Frank: Michael Serrecchia Greg: Michael Stuart Bobby: Thomas J. Walsh Paul: Sammy Williams Vicki: Crissy Wilzak