“A Chorus Line opened at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway July 25, 1975 . . . centered on seventeen Broadway dancers auditioning for spots on a chorus line . . . A Chorus Line provides a glimpse into the personalities of the performers and the choreographer as they describe the events that have shaped their lives and their decisions to become dancers.”
It was Twain who said that history did not repeat itself, but that it could rhyme.
Forty years ago, four distinguished artists -- Marvin Hamlisch, Edward Kleban, James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante -- brought Americans the spectacular musical, A Chorus Line, which ran for 6,137 consecutive performances and made Broadway history.
Beyond that, critics applauded it for breaking the rules for successful musicals – no elaborate sets or scenery, no costumes beyond the usual dancer’s stage wear, no intermission, and no star.
With only 519 days separating us from Election Day 2016, we rush headlong into the presidential nomination cycle, far sooner than most sentient human beings would prefer.
There is a rhyming-of-sorts between the book, music, and lyrics of A Chorus Line and the motley chorus lining up to engage in presidential auditioning on countless political stages across the country, which we’ll explore briefly.
As you may recall, A Chorus Line opens with the play’s dictatorial choreographer, Zach, telling a group of twenty-five ‘gypsies’ (Broadway term for dancers) that he’s made the first cut, and from the final round of seventeen dancers four male and female dancer teams will be chosen.
What stands between the that cut and the final selection is the passion and the brilliance of the play itself -- a physically challenging endurance contest in which the artistry and athletics of dance are only a part, competing with Zach’s spiteful demands on each gypsy to reveal intimate thoughts and fears, as well as their real motivation for wanting this show:
“I really need this job.
Please God, I need this job.
I've got to get this job.”
“And a voice from down at the bottom of my soul
Came up to the top of my head
And the voice from down at the bottom of my soul
Here is what it said
“This man is nothing
This course is nothing
If you want something
Go find a better class
“And when you find one
You'll be an actress
And I assure you that's what
Finally came to pass
“Six months later I heard that Karp had died
And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And cried 'cause I felt nothing”
I mean I didn't want him to die or anything
The parallels between the Broadway gypsies raw, unconstrained exhibitions in search of a role in the next show and the Beltway gypsies faux-earnest modus operandi coupled with a soupçon of noblesse oblige, albeit in own their equally desperate search for the presidency, is fodder for a sequel to A Chorus Line. Or perhaps something more like a Pinter play.
So off we go.
As of the first week in June 2015 our chorus line has the following candidates:
Republicans (announced:) Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio
Republicans (probable:) Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Scott Walker
Democrats (announced:) Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders
Democrats (probable:) Jim Webb
Democrats (unlikely) Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren
The Broadway gypsies have a single decision maker separating them from their dream job: Zach, the choreographer.
By contrast, our Beltway gypsies have a series of concentric circles of choreographers to work their way through.
First, the billionaires
Then, the media
Next, the bundlers
Then, the media
Next the primary voters
Then, the media
And finally the general electorate, particularly in battleground/swing states whose composition shifts around, but generally is thought to include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia; and in the second ‘leaners’ tier Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri.
We’ll resist the temptation is to indulge in handicapping exercises to speculate about who will last, who will not, who will be taken down by a yet-to-be-revealed scandal, who will fall out of the race because of a Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google Plus, Instagram, Flickr, you-name-it debacle.
That will come later, after the first few trees have fallen.
Instead, let’s consider the things we know at the outset:
• It’s the first presidential race in which the early, consistent front-runner is a woman.
• It’s the first presidential race that features African-American, Latino/Hispanic, and women candidates.
• It’s the largest field of announced or apt-to-announce candidates in any presidential race.
• It will be the most expensive presidential race, eclipsing the prior four election cycles: 2012: $2.621 billion, 2008: $2.799 billion, 2004: $1,910 billion, and 2004: $1,413 billion.
• Unless gravity is defied, it will set new lows for polarizing, personal, ad hominem verbal assaults, including those that violate Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
By contrast we have Rudy Giuliani’s recent gratuitous offering about President Obama, to which several Republican front-runners swore quasi-fealty:
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said Wednesday during a private group dinner in Manhattan, Politico reports. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
And in the ‘can you top that’ category, along came neurosurgeon Ben Carson (no relation to his TV doppelganger, Ben Casey,) with this observation about President Obama:
"Like most psychopaths. That's why they're successful. That's the way they look. They all look great."
Later in the exchange, Carson accused Obama of knowingly selling the American public "a lie."
He's trying to sell what he thinks is not true!" Carson reportedly said. "He's sitting there saying, 'These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.'"
Not only is Carson confused about his medical specialty – he’s a neurosurgeon, not a psychiatrist – he’s exhibiting exactly the kind of impetuosity we need least in a President and Commander-in-Chief. But not to worry. He’s not going there.
Alas, we know that when it has concluded, we’ll wonder why every presidential race in the last couple decades has become a Groundhog Day-like exercise, although not nearly as much fun.
We will have elected the 45th President and Vice President whose honeymoon will have ended long before taking the oath of office on January 20th, 2016. The fun is over before the party begins.
There seems to be no motivation nor impetus to break this pattern of hyper-extended campaign cycles that become more vitriolic and destructive of political comity and the underpinnings of effective governance, and at spending levels that increasingly make this a sport that only the super wealthy can afford, like thoroughbred horse racing and polo. Of course, the Internet and social media have also made it possible to raise huge sums of money from small donors, but a careful look at the process suggests that it’s the billionaires who are becoming the real ‘choreographers’ in this show.
In the meantime, we’ll let these memorable lyrics of A Chorus Line song take us out of this moment with a wisp of wishful thinking that by 2020 it might be better.
Kiss today goodbye
The sweetness and the sorrow
Wish me luck, the same to you
But I can't regret
What I did for love, what I did for love
Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do
Won't forget, can't regret
What I did for love