In the 2006-08 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, Mike Cannon understudied five different roles and performed them all at one time or another. He took over the role of Al—who auditions alongside his new bride, Kristine—for the last three months of the run. Now he’s Al again in Paper Mill Playhouse’s acclaimed production of Chorus Line, playing this month at the Millburn, N.J., theater.
“My wife and I used to audition together, so I’ve been Al,” says Cannon, who just celebrated his ninth anniversary with wife Amy, whom he met as his scene partner in his first acting class at Point Park Conservatory of Performing Arts. Yet, while Cannon has the most experience on stage as Al, he identifies just as much with other Chorus Line characters. “That’s the thing about all these roles—there’s something about each character that you’ve either experienced or felt,” he says. “As far as my life right now, I’m as close to Don as you can get: I’ve got a wife and two kids, and I’m looking to pay the bills, and I’d love to get into directing. That’s exactly what he says in the scene at the end. But I can identify or sympathize with every single character on that line. I’ve been Mark, who was 21 and brand-new to New York. I’ve been Mike—my sisters danced.”
Don, Mike and Mark were three of the parts Cannon covered on Broadway, along with Al and, yes, Richie. He’d played Mark in college, in a Point Park Chorus Line directed by Mitzi Hamilton, who also directed the Paper Mill production. Cannon’s future wife, Amy, was in that college show with him, as were such future Broadway performers as Megan Sikora, Christina Sivrich (Grease, The Wedding Singer), Nili Bassman (Chicago, Curtains) and Bobby Pestka (Bombay Dreams). The Point Park cast got a visit from Marvin Hamlisch, who composed Chorus Line’s score. Cannon would meet Hamlisch again years later during the Broadway revival, and he attended Hamlisch’s funeral this summer. “From hearing people talk, you walked out of there thinking, ‘Man, I gotta be a better person!’” Cannon says.
The Paper Mill production is dedicated to Hamlisch, whose death in August shocked the music and theater worlds. On opening night Oct. 7, more than 50 alumni of Broadway and national-tour companies of A Chorus Line—led by Kelly Bishop and Priscilla Lopez—performed an encore of “One” in honor of Hamlisch. Among those participating were Denise Pence and Steve Boockvor, who were the inspiration for Kristine and Al. Cannon and his Kristine, Amanda Rose, spent some time with them. “It was really cool to see them interacting with each other and to see a little bit of their personalities,” he says. “It’s exactly what we had envisioned.”
Even before the Hamlisch tribute, emotions were running extremely high on Paper Mill’s opening night. There was sustained applause and cheering when the lights went down for the show to begin. Another ovation greeted the cast as they did those iconic first steps. And then again as the opening number drew to its iconic close with everyone lined up holding their headshot. “When we came forward and put our headshots in front of our faces and people were just screaming,” Cannon relates, “I had to say [to myself], ‘All right, calm down. Don’t get overwhelmed. You have to perform this show.’ For a second it wasn’t Al standing up there, I was out of character in my mind and trying to calm Mike Cannon down.”