After assisting with and performing in the debut of A Chorus Line in 1975, Baayork Lee (New York, 1946) went on to choreograph or direct numerous productions of the musical around the world. When Antonio Banderas asked her to help him with his version of the musical which will open his new theatre in Malaga in October, she didn’t hesitate.
–What do you think about Antonio Banderas’ project to open his own theatre in his home city?
–I think it’s the most exciting thing I’ve heard in many, many years. Not many actors go back to their home towns and give something back... he’s a hero, that’s all I can say.
–How did he convince you to join him in this new production?
–Well he came to see a production of A Chorus Line at the City Center (theatre) in New York and he came backstage and he spoke to the actors. He told them that he was opening his theatre and that he wanted A Chorus Line to open it, which is for me the most exciting thing. After so many years of my directing it around the world, to be able to open in a new theatre, and also to have the famous Antonio Banderas in the show, is extraordinary. I don’t think he had to do much to convince me.
–What’s it like working with Antonio Banderas?
–Well, we haven’t started the rehearsals for the show, but I did go to Spain for four weeks to make the auditions in Madrid, Barcelona and in Malaga, and then the fourth week we had all the people we liked from the cities come to Malaga and do the final. It was a very good experience because I think Antonio Banderas really respected the fact that I’ve been doing this for 45 years. Of course, he had his opinions also - he’s a producer. In the end the most important thing is that we got the best cast for our show.
–What level of talent did you find in Spain?
–The quality is just as high as any other country. We had some performers from Mexico, from Germany and then also the ones who are in West Side Story in Spain and all the shows in Spain. The quality is getting universal because the training is getting so much better; people are going to New York and London to study, they’re going back to Spain with their teachers, so we have a very high level.
–You’ve directed and choreographed numerous versions of A Chorus Line. What will be special about this one?
–Number one, Antonio Banderas, because that’s very special. But I think what’s going to be special is that we start in Malaga and we go to Barcelona and Madrid and Antonio Banderas has ambitions for it to travel, and I think that’s what’s going to make this appealing to the actor but also to Spanish-speaking countries.
–The show will combine dialogue in Spanish with songs inEnglish. What do you think about the mixture?
–If this were 25 or 30 years ago I would say ‘oh my goodness’ … but a lot of people know the songs from the show, not all of them but they certainly will recognise the song One, and that will be sung in English. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem at all.
–Do you think that with projects like this one Malaga could create its own version of Broadway?
–Absolutely, thumbs up. Because Antonio’s vision is to bring the highest quality productions. He’s bringing me from New York, with my Tony award, and I’m bringing my associates with me, to give you the highest quality, like the shows on Broadway, on the West End. He has a reputation and he must use it. I think it will start a big trend in Malaga.
–Have people heard of Banderas’ project on Broadway? What are they saying about it?
–Oh my God! It was all over our local papers, our theatre papers and social media and everyone is so excited, you can’t imagine. My friends - 20 of them - have already booked their flights to come. People want to come; they are so excited to see the show in Spanish and also to see Antonio.
-Is your personal commitment to the Soho theatre limited to this production or could it extend to other projects?
–Right now, I’m doing the show, but you bet that I will be back because it’s such a wonderful place besides the theatre - a wonderful city.
–A Chorus Line opened in 1975. Do you get nostalgic?
–Every time I get to direct and choreograph the show and pass it on to the next generation I get nostalgic; I get very excited about helping to keep Michael Bennett’s legacy alive. The actors take to the show as if it were 1975. They love to identify with the show, they love dancing to the music and singing the songs and so it never gets old for me because I’m passing it on. To see their faces and to see their talent on stage warms my heart.
–What advice would you give a young person who wants a career in musicals?
–You must study. You can’t just watch television and think that you can do it because there are these shows that make you think you can dance. You must be a student first and study singing, dancing and acting - it’s called triple threat. Then you must be prepared for not getting work for a while, but you must never give up.
–Is the musical going through a revival, or did it never die?
–A Chorus Line never died. For 45 years now A Chorus Line has been performed somewhere in the world; it’s ageless. There are people who were teenagers seeing the show who now bring their grandchildren to see it. It’s not only a musical, it’s a musical about you, about people. And it’s not only about singing and dancing, the stories are very powerful, and it touches on so many people’s lives. Back in the 50s and 60s there was more fluff, musicals didn’t touch on social matters as much, but now the public is much more educated in musicals and expects much more than singing and dancing.
–When will you be back in Malaga?
–We have rehearsals from September 3rd and we open October 19th so I’ll be there the entire time with my team, and so they have a lot of help from New York. There’s a whole process when we go into rehearsals for A Chorus Line. I think the actors will have an in