The story opens as all good stories do, right in the middle of the action. Dancers fill the stage for a Broadway audition and after a cut, they are down to 17. Seventeen dancers vying for eight total positions divided equally among the men and the women.
It's the classic Tony Award® and 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Chorus Line, this time being staged by Theatre Under the Stars at the Hobby Center. Filled with iconic music by Marvin Hamlish, it tells the story of the hard challenges and difficult choices professional dancers face.
Sarah Bowden plays Cassie, the veteran dancer who is trying to get back on Broadway. "Cassie is very close to my heart. She’s an older dancer who has had a wonderful career and decided to go ahead and try for something bigger. She's been heartbroken by many men before so she decides to leave her heartache and go and pursue this dream of doing something more with her life of being an actress and go to LA to try something different."
Once there, however, Cassie realizes the move was a mistake. "She realizes that at heart she’s just a dancer really and that's the thing that she loves the most. So she goes back to New York to her partner, her ex-lover [Zach, the director leading the audition] and begs for her job back. She just wants to dance. So she’s somebody who loves her art, that’s her passion and her expression."
Bowden, who hails originally from Sydney, Australia, says she got started in dance at a very young age when a doctor advised her mother to help her keep from falling over her own feet. Years later she went along with some friends to an audition of Cats and got picked. A career in musical theater followed which has taken her around the world although she's never been to Houston before.
The Houston connection? Bowden says she met Dan Knechtges - the artistic director of TUTS since 2017 — about 12 years ago in Berlin, Germany where she was living and Knechtges was the choreographer for the show she was in. "When I moved to New York last year I met with Dan." She had been in A Chorus Line in a Hollywood Bowl production in 2016. "Dan was excited to work with me again and they knew that I'd played Cassie before."
Asked why A Chorus Line still continues to draw audiences, she says: "It speaks to performers because it's about us, it’s one to one about us. I think it speaks to everybody that if you stand on the line and put yourself forward and open up your heart and be honest about who you are and what you want, your hopes and your dreams, hopefully that’s enough.
" I think that’s why people keep coming back. Characters just standing there being vulnerable and honest."
Asked how accurate the grueling selection process depicted in the play is, Bowden says: "It absolutely portrays that what we do. That putting yourself on the line putting your heart out there. Being completely vulnerable. And then not getting a job and you can't explain why and it breaks your heart sometimes. I've been doing this for over 20 years and sometimes it just doesn't work out.
"You can’t tell. Sometimes you’ll walk out of an audition room thinking 'I nailed that.' Didn't get it. Sometimes you'll walk out thinking I was awful that was the worse thing I've ever done and you get the job; they call you in five minutes.
"I think for me 'What I do for Love' is one of my favorite songs for all time," Bowden says."I always say my biggest relationship and my longest love affair is with my performing arts, my musical theater and my dancing. The song basically sums that up."
I think I feel very lucky to get to do this show again." Bowden says. I feel very blessed with Cassie. Every time I play it I learn something different. I just feel extremely grateful to have been given that honor as Cassie. I think this show is the heart and soul of musical theater."
Performances of A Chorus Line are scheduled for September 10-22 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $40-$129.