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Take 5 with A Chorus Line alum – Baayork Lee


by David Ninh 16 Jul 2009

There’s only a handful of performances left of A Chorus Line, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park. The ‘singular sensation’ leaves town after Sunday’s final 2:00 pm matinee show and heads off to Tokyo. We caught up with original cast member and the revival choreographer for the show, Baayork Lee, who made a quickie stop at the […]

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Lee working with the Broadway cast

Lee working with the Broadway cast

There’s only a handful of performances left of A Chorus Line, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park. The ‘singular sensation’ leaves town after Sunday’s final 2:00 pm matinee show and heads off to Tokyo. We caught up with original cast member and the revival choreographer for the show, Baayork Lee, who made a quickie stop at the Music Hall to make sure everything “was up to par” — including sound, set design, and brushing up the touring cast members on the painstakingly difficult choreography. She makes a visit on the set of each stop of the tour to make sure everything is in check.  She also stars in the doc Every Little Step (“We’re crossing our fingers for an Oscar nomination for best documentary,” she divulged). The bubbly Broadway veteran continues to teach, direct and choreograph with no signs of stopping anytime soon…

When you were in the original production, when did you realize, WOW, this is huge?

I remember being backstage and we were all buzzing about all the town cars and limos that would pull up to the theater. Everyone came – Barbara Streisand, Diana Ross, Jackie O. They would all come backstage after the show to talk to us. One day at the end of a performance, when we are doing our final number, I was kicking and Chita Rivera came running down the aisle clapping and going ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ That’s when I knew this was huge.

I read somewhere that you started performing when you were really young, like at 5!

They needed Asian kids to be in the original Broadway production of “The King & I”. My father didn’t know what I was doing. When I saw the dancers, the elaborate sets, the costumes, the velvet seats and chandeliers in the theater, I instantly knew that this was what I wanted. I wanted to do what the dancers in the show were doing. After the “King & I”, I started ballet and I’m here now because I was so aggressive about it. I knew what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to get off the train…I wanted to dance. Of course I could’ve been a doctor or lawyer but I new from my gut that all I wanted to do was theater.

Do you miss the “gypsy” life of a dancer, auditioning, pounding the pavement?

NO! I heard lots of no’s and ‘you’ll nevers’. I’m a short Asian dancer. I much prefer being behind the scenes. I had a long, wonderful career performing, but I love being a director and choreographer.  I think it’s time for me to turn around and really help. I just formed the National Asian Artists Project.  With this company, I hope to be able to give back to the Asian community. We are going to restage shows like “My Fair Lady”, “Oklahoma”, “Carousel” — shows that don’t traditionally have Asians, and restage them with Asian casts. It will be a touring company that will go into Asian communities. The second and third generation of Asians in the country are seeing “Wicked”, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Mama Mia”, but a lot of them aren’t familiar with the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein shows that have the big orchestrations. I want to be able to teach, hold workshops and talk about musical theater to the communities and ask them to support Asian performers who have been on Broadway and television.  Somebody has to do something. This is where we live and we might as well be a part of it. We have huge plans. We’re mounting a concert version of “The King & I” in Atlanta in October. We are taking it to Fort Wayne next March and next August we are doing “Flower Drum Song” in Chicago.

What have you seen recently that you loved?

In The Heights! I like to say that “A Chorus Line” and “In The Heights” are similar and go side-by-side. In 1975, we were the new kids on the block and changed the face of theater. Before “A Chorus Line”, it was all about big, splashy musicals, and we came on the scene with no sets, bare stage, no props, no intermission and of course no stars. “In The Heights” is about what’s happening now, in the neighborhood…it’s the dance of now — a little hip hop, a little salsa.

I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but why do you think A Chorus Line still gets people excited?

Love! Love! LOVE! That’s it…love what you do. Love the passion. I’ve directed the show in Japan, Italy, Stockholm, Germany, even in different languages and it still resonates with people because anybody watching the show can relate to any of those 17 dancers on that line.

 For more information on National Asian Artists Project, visit naap1.com.

A Chorus Line runs at the Music Hall until Sunday.
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  • Jennifer

    Thanks for the interview with Baayork, David! Very interesting. Went to the show last night and really enjoyed it.