by Mo Brady
The upcoming gala presentation of A Chorus Line at New York’s City Center is one steeped in tradition. Not only is it a celebration of the 75th anniversary of City Center, but this production is helmed by original cast member and frequent stager of A Chorus Line Baayork Lee. As the first new production of the show in New York City in over a decade, the entire company has the opportunity to showcase the musical’s legacy to the city’s theatrical community. None so much as actress Jolina Javier, who plays the role of Connie Wong.
Javier has been a cast member of Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera for more than three years. In her varied dance career, her work has spanned the worlds of opera, classical dance and musical theatre. However, she credits A Chorus Line for helping her find her love of theatrical storytelling.
“My relationship with this show started in my living room as a kid,” remembers Javier. “When the movie version played on television, it resonated with me as a young ballet dancer. It also helped me discover my love for musical theatre.”
The City Center company features numerous ACL alums, Javier notwithstanding. She has performed the show twice regionally, at Theatre Under the Stars directed by Mitzi Hamilton and then at The MUNY directed by Denis Jones. However, the City Center production marks Javier’s first opportunity to learn the role of Connie Wong from the woman who originated it.
Director Baayork Lee is unofficially the world’s leading expert on A Chorus Line. She originated the character of Connie Wong, a role that is, in part, based on her life as performer.
Like Connie, Lee began performing on Broadway at a young age and continued to find success onstage as an adult. Just as Connie Wong has an established working relationship with the show-within-a-show’s director Zach, Lee had worked for ACL’s director, choreographer and conceiver Michael Bennett on Broadway’s Seesaw and Promises, Promises. And just like Connie Wong, Lee is 4’10”.
“Although she is 4 foot 10 inches tall, Connie has a big personality,” says Javier. “She’s witty, energetic, and ambitious; she knows who she is and what she has to offer and isn’t apologetic about her size because it hasn’t stopped her from working.”
In the decades since A Chorus Line debuted, Lee has gone on to direct and choreograph more than 35 productions of the musical, including a non-equity tour that launched earlier this year.
“I wanted to be a part of this production for many reasons, but number one was because I wanted to work with Baayork Lee,” reveals Javier. “She and co-choreographer Bob Avian were a part of the inception of A Chorus Line. I wanted to absorb every detail I could about this iconic show.”
In tackling the role of Connie, Javier hasn’t let the legacy of the show stop her from bringing her own experience to the character. “I tell Connie’s story from a very honest and truthful place because her story is exactly my story,” she says. “Baayork has given me full reign of the part and has allowed me to find my own within the songs and dialogue because she knows I have my own experiences to share within her story.”
However, in working with Lee for the first time, Javier has learned things about the role of Connie she didn’t know before. “I learned that since Connie has been in the business a long time and worked with Zach, she believes that her chances of booking this one are good. At the end of the show, she realizes that although she has a working relationship with Zach, it does not guarantee her a job. The nature of this business is that loyalty, reliability, and stability are for the most part absent. Nevertheless, Connie still shows up.”
The serendipitous relationship between Javier and this production goes beyond her love for A Chorus Line itself. “When I first moved to New York,” she remembers, “I would go watch as many dance performances at City Center as I could afford, and I always dreamed of performing on that stage. To be given the opportunity to perform my favorite musical and tell a story about dancers in a theatre that celebrates dance is a dream come true.”
“I feel, now more than ever, connected to the show at this point in my career. A Chorus Line’s story is every dancer’s story of all the sacrifice, heartache, and hope that we endure to keep doing what we love.”