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A euphoric evening of celebration for Broadway's longest-running show

By John Beaufort / October 11, 1983

New York

The oversize tickets were silver. The moment was golden. The mood was movingly euphoric.

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And no one who was present at the Shubert Theatre on the night of Sept. 29, 1983, is ever likely to forget that electric occasion. It was the night on which ''A Chorus Line'' played for the 3,389th time, to become the longest-running production in Broadway history. The pioneering musical surpassed ''Grease,'' the then reigning champion.

Thus ''A Chorus Line'' added to the laurels which already included a Pulitzer Prize, a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and nine Antoinette Perry (Tony) Awards.

With all of its sentimental, show-business associations, the gala of Sept. 29 was one of the thrills of this playgoer's lifetime. The evening began with celebratory refreshments and continued with a Shubert Alley ceremony. But few of the some 1,500 members of the black-tie audience could have been prepared for the performance that followed.

It was a performance that not only broke a record. It stirred the spirit and elated the heart. ''A Chorus Line'' was dedicated (in director-choreographer Michael Bennett's words) ''to anyone who has ever danced in a chorus or marched in step . . . anywhere.'' But on the night of Sept. 29, the show was dedicated in the most practical terms to the dancers who, in the first place, inspired the project and, in the second place, have performed it all over this continent and in other parts of the world. The night's cast of 332 included the company present and companies past: Broadway, national, and international.

As the glorious evening progressed, one troupe was succeeded by another. This ingenious device drew the spectator into the largest possible community of dancers. The shared, intimate feeling that has always distinguished ''A Chorus Line'' was deepened, broadened, and intensified.

Mr. Bennett also extended in other ways the human boundaries of the central event - an audition, with interviews, for a Broadway show. A performer from one company would be joined by two or three from other companies. After soloing in the spectacular ''The Music and the Mirror,'' Donna McKechnie (the original Cassie) was joined by an ensemble of Cassies. Players from overseas companies answered the question, ''What are you going to do when you can't dance?'' in a polyglot of languages, a sort of mini-United Nations - only more harmonious!

One of the most striking occasions of the evening occurred when Chikae Ishikawa, the Maggie of the Tokyo company, sang the moving song, ''Nothing,'' in Japanese. Commanding the stage with her strong vocalism and inner stillness, Miss Ishikawa received one of the many ovations that exploded as the celebration worked its irresistible magic. Another such moment occurred when Priscilla Lopez (the original Broadway Diana) sang ''What I Did for Love.'' Cheers broke out spontaneously as one number followed another. And the cheers were interrupted by more cheers.