A Chorus Line, pr. 1975 (with James Kirkwood; music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban)
Nicholas Dante (DAHN-tay), born Conrado Morales, was coauthor of A Chorus Line, the longest running show in Broadway history. A Chorus Line, which documented the personal and professional struggles of Broadway dancers, was performed at the Shubert Theater 6,137 times between 1975 and 1990. Dante began his career as a dancer and hoped that his work on A Chorus Line would serve as a catalyst to a new career as a writer: “It’s the first thing I ever wrote. . . . I’ve been dancing all my life. Now I hope I can be a writer.”
Although Dante planned to major in journalism, he dropped out of Cardinal Hayes High School at the age of fourteen because of negative reactions to his homosexuality. When he was a boy, writing in the genre of fantasy served as an outlet for his emotions, but after dropping out of school he stopped writing because he believed that a writer had to have an education. He supported himself by working as a drag queen and began studying dance. In 1965, he worked summer stock in St. Louis. The experience in summer stock encouraged him to write again; he believed he could write better material. Dante wrote two unproduced musicals: “The Orphanage” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In 1968, he performed in his first Broadway show, I’m Soloman, and continued working as a dancer in the choruses of several Broadway musicals.
Dante’s work on A Chorus Line began in 1974 during two twelve-hour taping sessions of dancers recounting their life stories. During these sessions, Dante told his life story, which would become the monologue of Paul, the longest monologue in the show. Dante told how he had hidden both his homosexuality and his profession from his parents; they only knew that he worked in theater. When his parents arrived backstage at the Jewel Box Revue for a surprise visit, they found him dressed as a showgirl. Dante felt relieved when his father told the producer, “Take care of my son.”
Although Dante had begun work on A Chorus Line using material from the taped sessions, the script was not completed until after the show was cast and in rehearsal. After the second rehearsal, James Kirkwood, a seasoned writer, was brought in to work with Dante, and the show began taking shape. Kirkwood had written Dante’s favorite book, Good Times/Bad Times (1968), and the two had an amiable working relationship. However, because the writing of the show was a collaboration, Dante felt that he did not get the credit he deserved for his writing, especially from the dancers whose stories were woven into the script. Although he worked on the show for eight months before Kirkwood joined the collaborative team, Kirkwood’s name appeared first in the credits. Furthermore, Dante argues that the idea that the show be in the form of a montage was his own, rather than that of Michael Bennett (the show’s producer), who received credit. Nevertheless, Dante received the Pulitzer Prize for A Chorus Line, as well as the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Dante was unable to repeat the success of A Chorus Line. He wrote the book to an unsuccessful musical, Jolson Tonight, which toured the United States in the early 1980’s. He also wrote an unproduced screenplay, “Fake Lady,” which explores the character Paul San Marco from A Chorus Line. Dante had trouble dealing with the pressure of repeating such a phenomenal early success, and he received no help from Bennett on further writing projects. Kirkwood and others on the creative team had made more money than he had, and Dante’s financial advisers had managed his money poorly.
Before Dante died of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in 1991, he had found peace with himself. He attributed his newfound sense of wholeness to participation in an unorthodox therapy using mind-expanding drugs and caring for his senile mother, Maria Guadalupe Morales, who had moved in with him following the death of his father, Conrado Morales. He thought that the therapy allowed him to come to terms with his childhood problems, and taking care of his mother, who did not even know what day it was, allowed him to understand the insignificance of whether or not he was famous. After years of drifting, he became motivated to write again and believed he could find success again. When he died, he was working on a new play titled A Suite Letting Go, about a man caring for his elderly senile mother. Two years earlier, he had described his new sense of well-being as the work of his life and was comfortable with the possibility of never achieving success again as a writer: “I did something really spectacular. . . . I’m going into history if I never write anything again.”