June 1, 2015 - On April 16, Commissioner Cynthia López presented a proclamation on behalf of Mayor de Blasio, declaring April 16, 2015, as A Chorus Line Day in New York City, in honor of the show’s 40th anniversary at the Public Theater. Director/Choreographer Baayork Lee was an original cast member of A Chorus Line when it debuted in 1975, and discusses her ongoing career in the theatre today.
How did you first become involved in theatre in New York City?
The casting agent for The King and I came to Chinatown where I lived and went to school. They were looking for children for the new Broadway show. My mother took me to the casting call, and I was chosen.
You were an original cast member and dance captain for the original production of A Chorus Line at the Public Theater and for two years when the show moved to Broadway. Was your audition for the part similar to that portrayed in the show itself?
Yes. I had to audition for the part of my life and was worried that I would not be cast so I was definitely saying “God, I hope I get it.”
A Chorus Line just celebrated its 40th Anniversary, and you were responsible for bringing in nearly all the remaining cast and crew members involved in the original production to attend the tribute at the Public Theater featuring a performance of Hamilton. What do you think links the two shows?
We changed the face of American theatre in New York in format with the exclusion of an intermission, ensemble casting, show lighting, and the creation of the term “triple threat,” just to name a few. Hamilton, by introducing rap to American theatre, has the potential to make dramatic changes as well as introduce theatre to a whole new generation.
You’re also the director/choreographer for the touring companies of A Chorus Line performing around the United States and the world. How are the cast members for this production chosen? Are local theatrical communities involved?
Yes, we do involve local theatrical communities, but I audition the roles exactly the same way you see in the show. It is a highly stressful process, as they must dance, then sing, and act. Then there is another round of learning material for the show to see if they fit the characters. This process takes weeks. The only difference is I don’t interview them about their personal lives until they are cast and only if they want to share that information with the rest of the group.
Tell us about your work to promote musical theatre in New York City’s Asian communities.
NAAP’s mission is to showcase the work of Asian American theatre artists through performance, outreach, and educational programming. There is also a need in the Asian community to introduce them to American theatre and so NAAP has started on the ground floor with an after school theatre club program at PS124. The program currently has 40 kids participating. We hope to grow this program in the future to include more schools and more children from the Asian community. Additionally, we have a senior sing-a-long program in Chinatown, and this past December they made their first public performance with our 40 member NAAP Broadway Community Chorus. In our efforts to provide professional development opportunities, we also offer a number of classes for dance, acting, and singing. Our larger projects include our Re-Discover Series and Discover: New Musicals which are cast using all Asian American performers providing them opportunities to play roles that otherwise are not available to them. Our past Re-Discover of Oklahoma, Carousel, Hello Dolly, and Oliver shows have been fully costumed, staged, and choreographed.