Visit from Val: Original 'Chorus Line' member shares stories with Metropolis cast
Dancers in "A Chorus Line," which opened last month at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, rehearsed for nearly two months to master the award-winning show.
But it was a visit from an original cast member -- who inspired the role of Val in the production -- that made the show, well, sing.
One of the cast members is Dan Hamman. He attended Palatine High School, where he performed in its choral program and musicals, and later in community theater in Palatine and Lake Zurich.
Now as a professional, he says performing in "A Chorus Line" is a dream come true, and that meeting one of its original cast members, Mitzi Hamilton, was "amazing."
"When Mitzi was talking to us about how this show was created, she said one thing that I will hold onto forever," Hamman said. "She said that before 'A Chorus Line,' dancers were hired basically to look pretty; rarely did a dancer have a sort of speaking part in a show.
"They had no identity or unique traits," he adds. "This show, 'A Chorus Line,' gave dancers a face, and an identity."
Hamilton spoke with the actors before one of their rehearsals and she described how the show was created. She recounted how Michael Bennett, its director and choreographer, had been approached by professional dancers to create a show "about dancers, with dancers, for dancers."
Bennett was hooked. He put out a casting call and drew a group of dancers eager to be in a new show. Yet, instead of auditioning them, Bennett asked them to tell him their personal stories.
"He wanted to hear our earliest recollections, our frustrations, our hopes and our dreams," Hamilton told the dancers. " 'A Chorus Line' was born during that first tape session. It was born that night."
Their stories -- including Hamilton's -- became the basis for "A Chorus Line," in which 17 dancers at an audition tell their life stories to an invisible director.
"I remember thinking, 'Oh, God, I hope I get it,'" Hamilton added, echoing the name of the show's opening number.
"A Chorus Line" would go on to become the second-longest running musical in history, win nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Hamilton played the role of Val for nearly 10 years on Broadway and one more year in London, before performing in seven more Broadway shows. But she points to 'A Chorus Line' as one of her favorites.
"(Michael Bennett) put us in the spotlight," she said with emotion. "What a gift."
Joe Keefe, executive director of Metropolis, says drawing Hamilton to one of their rehearsals and again for the first dress rehearsal, was a gift. She is, he said, "Broadway royalty."
At the dress rehearsal, Hamilton provided notes with feedback to director Robin Hughes and choreographer Christie Kerr. She returned on Saturday night to the theater's Marquee Night to meet with some of its biggest supporters.
"Mitzi providing invaluable guidance on this theatrical classic --- and insights into every facet of the world of show biz," Keefe said. "Her world-class talent, electric passion and encyclopedic knowledge inspired our cast and staff in career-altering ways."
Hamilton's real purpose in working with Metropolis officials, she said, was to empower the show's stars -- its dancers.
"It's so fulfilling," Hamilton told them, "to live your dream."