by Mo Brady
For many actors, the upcoming gala presentation of A Chorus Line at New York’s City Center is a homecoming. The cast is filled with Broadway stalwarts reprising roles they’ve played in the show at theatres across the country. But for two of Broadway’s most prolific ensemblists, Max Clayton and Ryan Steele, the production is a chance to tackle this seminal piece of theatre for the first time.
Since making his Broadway debut as Baby John in West Side Story, Ryan Steele has been featured in many of the most acclaimed Broadway ensembles of the last decade, including Carousel, Matilda The Musical and Newsies. However, playing the role of Larry in this City Center presentation is his first time performing this iconic story about his craft and livelihood.
“A Chorus Line has always been a bucket list show for me,” reveals Steele. “I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for it. It’s impossible to live this crazy life we, as dancers, live and not get moved by this story.”
Max Clayton has performed in five different Broadway musicals in the last four years, including a memorable turn as Tom in the original company of Bandstand. However, he credits A Chorus Line to encouraging him to make his dream of performing on Broadway a reality. “I have always been the biggest fan of A Chorus Line,” he says. “But when I saw the Broadway revival in 2006, which was a moment I saw myself pursuing acting.”
Both Clayton and Steele wanted to be a part of this City Center production, in part, to learn the material from Baayork Lee and Bob Avian. “I wanted it as soon as I saw that Baayork Lee and Bob Avian were setting it,” says Steele. Clayton agrees, “There is something extremely special about getting to learn this particular show from its originators.”
While it is each of their first forays into A Chorus Line, the production features many of the actors’ former co-stars. A Chorus Line reunites Clayton with previous cast mates, from Melanie Moore of the recently-closed Hello, Dolly! to Robyn Hurder of the world premiere of Moulin Rouge. For Steele, the production is a chance to reunite with Ahmad Simmons from Carousel, Tommy Bracco from Newsies and Sara Esty, with whom he danced for a year on the first national tour of An American In Paris.
“Aside from those I’ve worked with before, there are so many people in this cast that I have admired from afar for so long,” says Clayton. “I’m completely honored to share the stage with them today.” The company includes many ACL veterans, including Tony Yazbeck and J. Elaine Marcos from the show’s most recent Broadway revival. “A lot of the cast has done the show before, so it’s really comforting to have that assurance when trying to put up a show this quickly. Especially one as chaotic as A Chorus Line,” says Steele.
Adding to the frenetic energy of the production is that the company will be presenting the show as a full production. “You’re going to see all of the original staging, costumes, lights, and the glorious and massive orchestra,” reveals Clayton. “Nothing is scaled down or modified.”
Even though the show is a massive undertaking, both Clayton and Steele are excited to become a part of its legacy. “This show is brilliantly constructed,” notes Clayton.” It gives me goosebumps every single day. Every single person in the show is the backbone and glue of this musical. I love that each cast member gets their own bow without any order of significance. How special is that?”
“‘The star of the show is the line’ is something we were told at the beginning of rehearsal,” admits Steele. “That team vibe of this show brings such a refreshing energy to a rehearsal room. There are no egos. One moment, a performer could be downstage center singing a three-minute solo, and the next they’re upstage left dancing in the back of a group number. And it’s okay because we’re all supporting one another to tell this story - a story that is ours.”