For anyone who's toiled in the trenches of musical theatre, the characters in A Chorus Line
aren't just parts. The struggles of the show's 17 dancers to get through a trying group audition under the prying gaze of a slightly tyrannical director resonate all too closely with their everyday lives.
Of no one is this more true than Charlotte D'Amboise, who plays the oldest of the auditioning dancers, Cassie. It's a signature performance which, appropriately for the show's theme, resonates beyond the script, both for audiences who've watched D'Amboise's auspicious if never-quite-headlining career, and of course for D'Amboise herself.
"With most of the parts I've played, I've always had to reach out a little bit and find the character, but this one is very close to home," says D'Amboise, the child of two ballet stars, Jacques D'Amboise and Carolyn George. "It's not that I follow Cassie's story exactly, but it's still very close for me."
Not that such closeness makes the part easier. If anything, it's just the opposite.
"This is the hardest show I've ever done in my life," D'Amboise confesses. "I think it's because I don't get to be funny, as I did with Roxie in Chicago
or Charity in Sweet Charity
. It's relentless, and it's so close to home: Every day we're up there in a situation we've been in every day of our lives. I can't ever escape."
It doesn't help that after standing on the sidelines for much of the show, Cassie suddenly has a long acting/dancing/signing solo culminating with "The Music and the Mirror." Says D'Amboise: "Having to sing and then dance, and then having to sing and dance again so hard--it's like running the marathon every day."
Remarkably, this isn't D'Amboise's first stab at A Chorus Line
. She'd seen the original production when she was a pre-teen more interested in sports than in the family business of dancing. But by the time she was working as a young Broadway hoofer in the early 1980s, there weren't a lot of shows to choose from.
"I auditioned for A Chorus Line
when I was 16," D'Amboise recalls. "Everyone had on beige tights; I had on pink tights. I did get all the way to the end. I still remember that audition; I can still feel the angst of that."
She soon landed a role in Cats
, the Main Stem's other big dancing show, where she met the man who would later become her husband, Terrence Mann. D'Amboise confirms that the lament of the characters in A Chorus Line
--that shows requiring their talents are on the wane--was more true then than now.
"When I started auditioning for shows in 1982, I remember there were very few shows with dancers in them," D'Amboise says. "Now there are more. Once you got past Song and Dance
, there was A Chorus Line
. Megahits like Les Miz
needed singers more than dancers, and a lot of Broadway houses were empty."
One change that has stuck, though: the reign of the triple threat: "Before A Chorus Line
, you used to have the dancing chorus, and the singing chorus, and the actors," D'Amboise says. "A Chorus Line
opened up a lot of doors for people who could do all three--and now you have
to do all three."
Cassie's desperation to go back into the chorus belies the fact that her remaining years as a dancer are numbered. And the show's 11 o'clock number, "What I Did for Love," is motivated by the frightening question: "What will you do when you can't dance anymore?" For many of the show's young dancers, it's a question that's too painful to face. How does it strike a veteran hoofer like D'Amboise?
"Now that I'm older, and I've danced my ass off my whole life, it doesn't hit me as hard as it would have," D'Amboise says. "Dancing is so hard. I look at Chita Rivera and I can't believe her. I'm the kind of dancer who doesn't know how to pull back. If I have an injury, I keep dancing until I can't walk on it. But I've learned that if something is hurting, I address it right away." Still, at the moment, D'Amboise says, "I have tendonitis in both shoulders; I can barely lift them. I have herniated discs in my neck; that's been a little rough. So when I think of the pain of dancing as opposed to it not hurting anymore…"
She trails off wistfully. But she has more to say.
"When you've had that passion in your life, you have to have something to replace it," says D'Amboise, who has two young daughters. "I've been spoiled--I feel like I've been lucky, because I've been able to follow that passion through my life. What else can I do that's going to make me feel that way? It's a question that I deal with every day."
Now, thanks to A Chorus Line
, D'Amboise gets to work out that question onstage--and then answer it by dancing it into to the ground once more.
Find tickets to A Chorus Line here.