AN INTERVIEW WITH JOE LANGWORTH

By Merete Muenter

Joe Langworth has been on the Broadway and National tour scene for the past decade. His first Broadway credit was being a part of the final cast of A Chorus Line. Since then he has been in the original Broadway cast of Ragtime, the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies, as well as the National tours of Tommy and Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has been kind enough to share his thoughts and memories from A Chorus Line with us for our website!

MM: “What was your audition process like for getting cast in A Chorus Line?

JL: “The audition was a day or two after Christmas, so not many people were in town.
Around forty guys showed up to the Shubert Theater. At 23, just being on that stage was a thrill. Group by group we lined up, said our names, did a double turn left and right (I believe), and a time step of our choice. Then a cut was made before dancing the jazz and ballet combinations. (Joe had learned the ACL jazz and ballet combinations from a friend on a previous tour of West Side Story). I knew these dances, so I felt confident and was having FUN!
I remember Mark Esposito being there. I had seen Mark’s work on stage and had a great admiration for his talent. We both were kept to read and sing, so I took the opportunity to introduce myself and pay homage. When it was my turn to go on stage, I remember being in awe. I sang “Somethin’s Comin’’ from West Side Story, focusing on the back row of the house. After I sang, no one said anything, so I just stood there and looked around at the theater; the lights, the boxes, the fly space…I was mesmerized!
Eventually, they had me read, but the stage manager, Tom (his last name escapes me), told me that I got the job while I was standing there looking around. They needed a ‘Mark’ cover and my behavior got me the job before I even read for the part.”

MM: “While learning A Chorus Line, what was the hardest part of the show for you to learn, and what was the easiest?”

JL: “For me, the hardest part of the show to learn was the tap combination. In college, I learned flaps and shuffles in order to do a ‘tap feature’ in a wacky production of Chicago. Beyond that, I had never tapped before. To this day, I thank Michael Gruber (who was playing ‘Mike’ at the time), for taking time to teach it to me SLOWLY. The first time I went on as Mark, a friend who was watching said to me, “That was so adorable the way you chose to count to yourself in the tap section.” Not a choice…a tool for survival!
The easiest part to learn was the opening jazz combination. That was the kind of dancing I admired since I was a kid. Right out of college, I toured Europe with West Side Story. Fellow cast members who knew audition combinations from shows running on Broadway would teach class. I learned both the ballet and jazz combinations backstage in some theater (or Stadhalle) in Germany.

MM: “Did any of your fellow A Chorus Line cast members work with Michael Bennett directly? If so, did they ever share anything significant about him; for example, what they may have learned from him, or if he had said something to give them a new approach to the show, which, with your being a newcomer, may have helped you in your performance as well?”

JL: “I was lucky enough to learn the show from Troy Garza, who had been with A Chorus Line for 14 years. Troy worked directly with Michael and was generous in sharing his insight. Like Troy, I am not a tall man, but that did not excuse me from the frequent shout to ‘get lower’. Troy would demonstrate the opening jazz combination, skimming the ground throughout. It was beautiful to watch. Troy also told me how Michael would show up to the theater unannounced, and watch the performance from the wings. Supposedly, this would throw the dancers into a tizzy, as they were eager to please him. I always took it upon myself to dance the show as if Michael Bennett were watching from the wings.”

MM: “How did it feel doing your first performance of A Chorus Line, and officially making your Broadway debut in that show? What character did you play in that first performance?”

JL: “I think the first time I went on was for ‘Wrong Arms Roy’. I remember starting the show facing the mirror upstage, and as soon as Bob LuPone said, ‘Let’s take it from the top….5, 6, 7, 8…’, I turned around and was completely overwhelmed looking at a Broadway house from the other side!”

MM: “What part of A Chorus Line do you think most reveals Michael Bennett’s genius as a director and choreographer?”

JL: “I think the background choreography to ‘One’ during the Cassie/Zach confrontation is brilliant. It couples the rhythm of the scene, especially during the climax as the dancers, surreally lit, sing full volume in canon, row by row moving towards the audience. All of the elements work so beautifully together here…a testament to his genius as a director. The audience is transported to another place. Amazing how a show with minimal costumes and sets can captivate an audience for over two hours.”

MM: “How was the cast notified about the closing of the show on Broadway? Was there a meeting onstage, or a notice posted?”

JL: “Joe Papp came to the theater and had a meeting with us onstage. He later did an official press announcement.

MM: “What was the reaction of the A Chorus Line cast to the closing notice on Broadway? Was it expected or unexpected?”

JL: “The closing notice came as a shock. At 23, I had just gotten into the longest running Broadway musical. I expected to have a job a little longer than 3 months! Luckily, three months turned into five and the experience was one of the most memorable of my career.
Before A Chorus Line, I worked at the Public Theater in a short-lived piece called Up Against It. Luckily for me, A Chorus Line followed that closing. I went up to Joe Papp the day the closing was announced and said, ‘My record for closing shows with you isn’t good.’ He laughed, patted me on the shoulder and moved on to ‘meet the press’.
Being younger and new to the line, I was eager about performing opportunities beyond the closing. But, for a lot of people, it marked a larger transition. Many people in the cast were veterans who had put in their time in musical theater and wondered what was next. This was an interesting contrast to my naïve enthusiasm. While I’ve seen fellow cast members over the years, there are a number of people that I’ve missed. I wish everyone well, wherever they may be in their lives, and thank them for their generous gypsy spirits.”

MM: “How difficult was it for the A Chorus Line cast to get through the performance that night when the closing announcement was given? Was the cast’s energy drained or invigorated by the experience?”

JL: “Once the closing was announced, the Shubert Theater, which had only been half- filled with tourists, was standing room only! Although it was sad for the cast, the announcement brought a surge of energy into the building. A Chorus Line was once again the hottest ticket in town! The press coverage and media attention made our cast very visible in the Broadway community. I performed as ‘Mark’ the entire week the closing was announced, so I enjoyed the exposure. I still have the photo that was on the front page of The New York Times the day after the closing was announced…all of us on the line with our headshots in front of our faces. My Dad actually called the Times and was able to get me the actual photo.”

MM: “Do you think the cast enjoyed performing more before or after the closing announcement was made? Was there a difference in the energy level of the performances?”

JL: “It was interesting to see how many people flocked to the Shubert to experience A Chorus Line once the closing was announced. As a performer, I like to give a solid performance regardless of the size of the house. However, I must admit that the excited, sold-out houses took me to another level. This seemed to be a shared feeling across the line. Before the closing was announced, I used to tell my friends to buy a standing room ticket and then pick an empty seat once the show started. Now I was telling people to get a standing room ticket because that was the only thing available!”

MM: “What was it like to give that very last performance of A Chorus Line? I can’t imagine how it must have felt to close such a historic, long-running show!”

JL: “I was not on that night. But, the understudies sang in a booth, stage left. The booth was enclosed with black tarps and had a couple of microphones and a video monitor so we could see the conductor. By the end of the show, we basically tore the tarp back so we could see and be with our fellow cast members onstage. The entire company did take bows at the end of the show.
There are so many great memories from that night. It was exciting to meet members of the original cast and have them backstage. They were walking around looking into old dressing rooms and you could see the memories coming back to them. As far as the actual performance, Laurie Gamache doing ‘Music and the Mirror’ was a highlight. Laurie was an amazing, athletic ‘Cassie’. Given the magnitude of this performance, I was nervous for her. I would always watch her from stage right, crouched down in the corner. I claimed my regular spot for that evening’s performance. She rose to the occasion and danced and sang that number like I had never seen before. I think the audience clapped for more than two minutes after she was done…chills thinking about it!”

IN APPRECIATION

I would like to personally thank Joe for sharing his experiences with us for our website! So often we hear about what being in the show was like for the original cast of “A Chorus Line”, but we never really learn what it was like for the final Broadway cast. Thank you, Joe, for helping us recognize this history-making show from the ‘end of the line’!

Merete Muenter

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