Photo credit: NYPL's Digital Collections, ID: swope_246137.
When the news came out in 2019 in a Time cover story that Ryan Murphy was going to take on the beloved Broadway musical "A Chorus Line" as a limited series, musical theatre fans started scratching their heads. How in the world was he going to accomplish a two-act musical in 10 episodes? That doesn't make any sense.
As time passed, Murphy has given us more insight into how he wants to approach the show. We've also had time to see him direct his first musical with Netflix's "The Prom," so we know he can handle the material. It's also no secret that he's a Broadway fan, so hopefully, some of his critics have exhaled since first hearing the news.
Let's dive into what we know so far.
What is "A Chorus Line?"
The story followers 17 dancers, who are all vying for a spot in the chorus of a new musical. The show delves into their personal lives of how they began dancing and the emotional twists and turns of becoming a dancer. The show was a massive hit when it opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater on April 15, 1975, thanks to Michael Bennett's direction, Bennett and Bob Avian's choreography and Marvin Hamlisch's timeless music. Producer Joseph Papp moved it several months later to the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 6,137 performances and closed on April 28, 1990. The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and went on to win nine of those awards, including Best Musical, Best Director and Best Choreography as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The show created stars out of its cast and many names are still well-known in the entertainment industry. Wayne Cilento (Mike) went on to choreograph "Wicked" and "The Who's Tommy," Kelly Bishop (Sheila) starred as Emily Gilmore in "The Gilmore Girls" and Baby's mother, Marjorie Houseman, in "Dirty Dancing," and Donna McKechnie (Cassie) continued her stellar Broadway career and became a household name in the process.
But there was controversy...
This part of the story rarely gets told, but it needs to be heard. The original stories for all of the characters came from the personal experiences of many in the Broadway community. They workshopped sharing their journey with Bennett on a late evening in January 1974 and sold their life story in exchange for $1. This became the core storyline structure for "A Chorus Line" and Bennett went on to make millions from the show, the dancers did not.
“There never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without Michael,” said Bishop told The New York Times in 2006, “but there never would have been ‘A Chorus Line’ without us, either.”
Although the director created a complicated structure for those who shared their stories to receive royalties once the show moved to Broadway, it didn't add up to the money Bennett made. In fact, it didn't even cover the revival production from 2006 — the agreement was solely for the original production. The legal entanglement is complex, but it's a tale as old as time in the performing arts industry, where artists often get taken advantage of. It also makes for good storytelling later on, and original Broadway cast members Baayork Lee (Connie) and Thommie Walsh (Bobby) wrote an unforgettable book about their journey with the show and the lawsuits that followed called "On the Line: The Creation of a Chorus Line."
This brings us back to Ryan Murphy
When the news was originally announced, many thought it would be a strict retelling of the Bennett musical in 10 parts. We've now learned that it's going to be something more. During the press junket for "The Prom," Murphy teased his vision for the limited series.
"We’re trying a different approach with that, which we’re trying to do "A Chorus Line" as a limited series for Netflix. My favorite Broadway director of all time, producer, whatever, is Michael Bennett," he revealed to Deadline. "So, it’s going to be "A Chorus Line" with all that wonderful music, but also the idea of how did he make "A Chorus Line?" And the thing that I was always very fascinated by, he did it for the love of the craft, and he took out a little office in Times Square and he took gypsies into those rooms and said tell me about your lives, and from those interview sessions came the music, and so I got the rights to all of those interviews. I have all of those tapes. I have all of that material about how was “What I Did For Love,” what is that about? How was “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three?”
So hold up — it's not going to be a straight-up version of the musical with a Murphy creative spin? Nope, not in the least. It's going to have some of that behind-the-scenes drama that has lasted for decades amongst the original cast members — a part of the story that is rarely told.
When will it air on Netflix?
The timeline of "A Chorus Line" is tricky because the pandemic pushed back some of the final filming of "The Prom," so Murphy got a later start than anticipated on "A Chorus Line." He told Collider in April 2020 that he had just finished all of the contract details for the project and that his next focus was going to be on writing the script. "I hope to be able to start writing it pretty soon because I've never had a piece of material where more actors have come up to me and said, 'I really want to be in this. I really want to be in this.' I think there's an excitement for that music that we all grew up with and I'm excited to hopefully be able to start doing it soon," he said.
But in a November update with Deadline, it seemed that the project was moving slower than anticipated. "So that’s a very interesting process that I’m going to start working on next year," he shared in reference to "A Chorus Line. "I haven’t started that one yet but you know, I want to keep doing it."
So this project, at best, might be coming our way in late 2021, but with no news on casting — it's looking a lot like a 2022 Netflix release.