30 Days Of The 2014 Tony Awards: Day #4 - A CHORUS LINE Vs. CHICAGO
Today we continue the 2014 edition of our annual BroadwayWorld feature series spotlighting the very best Tony Awards-related moments of all time with a special focus on one of the biggest battles for Best Musical with A CHORUS LINE versus CHICAGO.
One Singular Sensation
Apples and oranges oftentimes can go so well together that pitting two musical theatre masterpieces against one another seems so utterly unfair, yet that is what we must do given that this is Tony Awards week and we are highlighting the most memorable brawls between Best Musical in history. It would be difficult to define an example more befitting of the theory that more is more - as opposed to less is more - than the 1976 Tony Awards battle royale between A CHORUS LINE and CHICAGO. While history has smiled on CHICAGO and it is now one of a handful of longest-running musicals in history - even besting original long-run champ A CHORUS LINE, ironically - history tells us that the match-up was a tricky and troublesome to parse as it may first appear to be.
A CHORUS LINE stormed the Great White Way - and America at large - like few musicals before or since. Ostensibly the first reality show, A CHORUS LINE took the real remembrances and stories of dancers and then musicalized and dramatized them. It was master director and choreographer Michael Bennett's brainchild, but the community of players and creative team members banded together to collectively craft a musical of weight, warmth and incredible applicability. It's not just about dancers or performers, it's about all of us - as the familiar Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban songs consistently remind us. Then, there was the staging! And, what a triumph of style and substance A CHORUS LINE was, occurring mostly on a bare stage with only mirrors, lights and that iconic white line as the set. Everything else was conjured up from out of thin air like magic - and like life itself.
Bob Fosse worked alongside Street stalwarts John Kander and Fred Ebb to craft a pitch black musical comedy staged as a vaudeville based on a play by Maurine Dallas Watkins that many at the time found entertaining and enjoyable, if perhaps a bit too dark. Clearly, CHICAGO was a show a decade or two ahead of its time. Yet, it was impossible to deny the brilliance of Fosse's staging nor the ferocious central performances by leading ladies Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. Then, there are all those amazing songs - "All That Jazz" to "Razzle Dazzle" to "All I Care About" and beyond. A tough show with an even tougher attitude, CHICAGO is a musical that dares you to like it - and takes absolutely no prisoners.
A CHORUS LINE ended up the big winner of the night, triumphing in the categories of Best Musical, Best Original Score (Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban), Best Book (Nicholas Dante/James Kirkwood Jr.), Best Actress In A Musical (Donna McKechnie), Best Featured Actor In A Musical (Sammy Williams), Best Featured Actress In A Musical (Kelly Bishop), Best Direction Of A Musical (Michael Bennett), Best Choreography (Michael Bennett/Bob Avian) and Best Lighting Design (Tharon Musser).
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So, now, let's take a look at some of the most memorable Tony Awards clips pertaining to A CHORUS LINE and CHICAGO.
First, the original cast of A CHORUS LINE open the 1976 Tony Awards.
Next, Marvin Hamlisch himself leads the revival cast of A CHORUS LINE on the 2007 Tony Awards.
Now, Jerry Orbach stops the show in 1976 with a CHICAGO standout.
Lastly, the 1997 revival cast of CHICAGO make an impression.
As a special bonus, view the entire 1976 Tony Awards telecast.
History is funny - and telling. While many at the time considered A CHORUS LINE a classic for its time, the show itself has dated unfavorably in some ways since its premiere - particularly in its oh-so-1970s cultural references - whereas CHICAGO runs on Broadway right now as applicable to today as ever. Nonetheless, both musicals are among the finest in the canon and we can hope we will see a major Best Musical match-up of this level some season very soon.