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By DAVID LeSHAY
Pennsylvania-born performer James T. Lane made his Broadway debut in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line as Richie ("gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball...yeah!"). After that auspicious debut, he went on to Broadway productions of Chicago and The Scottsboro Boys, and then last winter, history suddenly repeated itself. He was one of three American performers asked to join the London production of A Chorus Line at the legendary London Palladium, where he again performs the role of Richie.
Recently, TDF Stages chatted with him about his journey from Broadway to the West End.---
TDF: After two productions of A Chorus Line in two different countries, are you still learning things about Richie? What have you discovered recently that you didn’t know before?
James T. Lane: I thought the role was just singing and dancing before. But this time around, I leaned into the basketball star that he was in high school. A very popular and talented athlete. I really explored how important it was for him to get a scholarship to college. Maybe he was the first in his family to go, and then he left school to go after his dreams in New York City. It makes the audition that day so much more important. Sink or swim, because there's no going back.
TDF: Since appearing in A Chorus Line in New York, you’ve done two more Broadway shows. By comparison, is there anything unique about performing in A Chorus Line? Does it require anything special from you as a performer?
JTL: A Chorus Line is an audition. For two hours, in real time, you are auditioning for a place in Zach's show. You are on the line. There's nothing like it! Even though we know it’s a show, Michael Bennett has created a piece that makes you feel that you are always auditioning. No matter how many times you dance that jazz combo or do the ones, you always feel like you are on the line. So you'd better be good at auditioning, or it will be a long night. You have to keep that audition energy going throughout the evening. This is very different from the other two Broadway shows I have been in.
TDF: How is the London production of A Chorus Line different from the recent Broadway revival?
JTL: Bob Avian and Baayork Lee, who are Chorus Line veterans and our co-directors for this revival, have let us really discover new blocking and intentions this time around. It's liberating. Not only was it their story back then, it's every performer’s story today. So we get to live and breathe new life into it in our own way.
TDF: Speaking of London, what is it like being one of only three Americans in the cast of a seminal American musical? How are West End “gypsies” different from Broadway “gypsies?"
JTL: Pretty darn awesome! It's a tremendous honor to be asked to come here, and I am enjoying the responsibility that has come with it. I heard there would be a London revival but didn't think anything of it. The call came from out of the blue. I was on the first national tour of Jersey Boys, but I jumped at the chance to play the role once again. And it's always been a dream of mine to work on the West End. And gypsies are gypsies, wherever you go. But these gypsies drive on the wrong side of the street!
TDF: You’re performing at the historic Palladium Theatre, which has twice the number of seats as the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, where you played on Broadway. How are you and the cast able to keep the intimacy of the show in such a large house?
JTL: The house is huge! I remind myself to just tell my story. And so many of the greats have performed on that stage: I imagine that Sammy Davis Jr, Nat King Cole, Judy, the whole gang are watching from the balcony. It keeps me inspired, and it keeps me hitting those high notes. None of us has gotten anywhere on our own. I am standing on the shoulders of those great stars.
TDF: How can you compare the audiences on Broadway versus what you’re experiencing now in the West End?
JTL: Broadway audiences are demonstrative throughout. On the West End, they save it until the end.
TDF: How has it been living in London? Do you have any tips for us tourists when we come over?
JTL: I am soaking up this life on the other side of the pond. I haven't adopted the British accent yet, but I’m working on it in private. Tips for tourists? Just look both ways before crossing the street!
David LeShay is TDF's Director of Communications
Photo by Manuel Harlan